I think we’d all agree that the way (most) parents raise their children today is different from the way that our parents raised us. For starters, fathers are generally way more involved in childcare. “Millennial” dads are spending three times as much time with their kids than the previous generation. And stay-at-home dads are far more common too. I know we still have a long way to go with gender equality, absolutely, but we are making positive strides.

Another area where we’ve experienced a marked shift in parental attitude is in how parents choose to interact with their children. This is oftentimes depicted as a stereotype gone too far, where an overwhelmed mom or dad is at the mercy of a tiny tyrant. “Please, Timmy, can you please just eat one more bite of your supper?” You see parents begging and pleading with their children, negotiating and bribing with ice cream and video games.

You’ll Do as You’re Told

The older generation looks at these sorts of interactions and shakes their collective heads. “Back in my day,” one might say, “kids did as they were told. And if they didn’t, it was the belt.” Or the feather duster, as the case may be in certain Asian households. You may have feared when mom or dad threatened to give you “something to cry about.”

I'll give you something to cry about

I’m not here to debate spanking and other forms of corporal punishment. That’s a whole other can of worms that I’m not quite prepared to open in a public forum. However, I will say, as I did at the top, that the way most parents raise their kids today is different. You’ll see a more collaborative relationship, you might say, where the children have more of a say into what to eat, where to go, or what to do.

What Do You Want to Eat?

Instead of simply dictating what’s for dinner, some parents (us included) may ask the child what he or she would like to eat. She usually asks for noodles. In the photo at the top, she specifically requested ramen. Go figure. But I digress.

We don’t always oblige, of course, but there is an exchange of ideas… even if it’s not exactly on equal footing. Are we being too lenient? Too easy? Are we treating our children more like our peers (or our oppressors) and less like our children?

In previous generations, the father may boom out, “Go clean up your room!” Today, the dad might politely request, “Can you clean up your room, please?” To a four-year-old. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything.

I can’t recall exactly where I read this — fill me in via the comments if you know — but the author said that we should never add “okay” to the end of our sentences as parents. As in, “Clean up your room, okay?” In doing so, you’re making a request. You’re asking the child to do the thing, rather than telling them to do it. That’s a fair point.

A Stereotypical Polite Canadian?

But for me, it goes further than that. When I ask Addie to do something, I ask politely. I use “please.” When he helps me fetch something, I (almost) always say, “Thank you.” But why? I’m her father. She should respect me and simply do as she is told, right? For me, it’s not just about teaching her to be polite; it’s also about modelling that behavior. Don’t just do as I say; do as I do. Children pick up on your behavior far more than they pick up on your words.

For me, it’s far less about reinforcing the hierarchy. It’s much more about raising a human being who will (hopefully) be a good person. I want her to be respectful, not only of those who may be higher up the totem pole, but also those who may be a couple rungs down. I want her to feel like she has a voice, and that her opinion matters (because it does). Through our exchanges with please and thank you, she learns about compromise and negotiation. And how you don’t always get what you want, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask.

So, I’ll keep saying please and thank you. The world could use some more common courtesy. And who knows? Maybe I’ll learn a thing or two from her too. Like how to control my temper. Now, would you please just pick up your toys?