Here are the Rules of Please I came up with, as I would tell a child:
- It's a word you absolutely must say if you are asking for something, if there is any chance of your request being granted.
- It's not enough to say please. You have to say it nicely.
- It's not enough to say it nicely, sometimes you just can't have what you are asking for anyway. Read: an adult is not required to grant a request, even if accompanied by a please.
- If you don't remember to say it when you first request something, an adult will almost certainly remind you to say please, usually in the form of a quiz. It won't necessarily be the adult to whom you have made the request. It can be any adult within earshot.
- "Please" is always the correct answer to the following questions: What do you say? What's the magic word? How do you ask?
- Adults do not have to say please to you when they ask you for things.
- If if an adult does not say please to you and you remind him, in the form of a quiz or otherwise, you will probably be scolded.
- When an adult does say please to you, it means you have to do what they are asking.
- Adults do not have to say please to each other when they ask for things.
- As soon as you learn to speak (or maybe even before that), you will be expected to remember these rules and properly apply them in every situation.
Wow, it is even more confusing now that I just spelled it all out. Rules 1-9 are confusing enough, but I'm the most confused by rule #10. I don't know why we insist on children saying please as soon as they start talking. This would be analogous to us expecting kids to hold the door open for people behind them, as soon as they started walking. But we don't expect that. We understand that young children don't have the level of awareness it takes to remember to hold doors open for others. And instead of appreciating that we no longer have to distinguish between various forms of "WAAAAH!" to figure out what our child is asking for, we remind them that even though they are telling us exactly what they need, they aren't doing it right. Well I'm not doing it anymore. So even if it comes out "MOM I WANT SOME SPICY CHIPS!" or even just "SPICY CHIPS!" I can quietly be grateful that I know exactly what my child is asking for, instead of being upset that there was no please attached.
I don't really understand what the big deal is about please anyway. Some ways it is used actually make a request sound snottier. Some adults I know never say please, some say it excessively. I am friends with both kinds of people, and it doesn't make much of a difference to me. If you think please is such a great word, try using it more and expecting it less. Maybe our children will grow up to be a people who say always say please, and maybe not.
So the next time a child asks you for something, please give this a try: just happily grant the request, and see how nice it feels. Try to remember how confusing it is for a child to properly use social conventions. Try to remember how you felt as a kid, or even think about how you would feel as an adult if you asked a friend for something and she held it back until you said the "magic word". And another thing, please stop calling it the magic word. There is nothing magical about it and calling it that makes "magic" the second most confusing word in the English language.