School bans teachers from using the word 'please'

Jan 11, 2016 at 4:26 p.m. ET
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In a world filled with ad-nauseam pleases and praise, a more direct approach to childrearing might be just what parents and children need.

That's what Druid Hills Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina, has instituted. It's getting a lot of attention because teachers at the school no longer say please. But there's a lot more to No-Nonsense Nurturing than dropping the magic word.

Teachers, who are trained in the method, provide kids with concise, clear instructions in an M.V.P. (movement, voice and participation) format that gives students zero room for misbehavior. As children follow the teacher’s commands, they are distinguished in front of their peers. For example: 

“Madison is sitting with her legs crossed on the carpet. Alex has joined us on the carpet and is sitting quietly. Jessica has put her book away and is walking to the carpet without speaking,” the teacher narrates.

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This positive-reinforcement provides something missing in many classrooms, the chance for students who are following the rules to be recognized. All too often well-behaved students are ignored while teachers focus on reprimanding children who are not. The cycle of negative attention, thus, is broken. Teachers do not negotiate, and they don’t ask “please,” either.

The lack of using the word “please” while instructing children has struck a chord of discontent with some. Yet proponents of the method believe removing “please” lets children know that following instructions is not an option, and that students are not doing the teacher any favors by doing as they are told.

Teachers trained in this method of instruction have shared a largely positive response in both their ability to teach and the transformation in their students' behavior.

Students are expected to comply, and when they do not, they aren’t allowed to take up precious instruction time. Rather, after a clear verbal warning, students who continue to misbehave are given a consequence for their actions. Little time is spent correcting behavior and more time is spent engaging students in learning.

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Praise is focused on those who excel and achieve, eliminating the “everyone deserves a trophy” mentality found all too often in and outside classroom environments. Over time, teachers feel this clarity and consistency creates a more engaged learning environment where children strive to be recognized for positive behavior. Parents and youth-sport coaches could benefit from incorporating this model into their interactions with children.

A recent study at Ohio State University found that “narcissism in children is cultivated by parental overvaluation,” meaning that every undeserved praise we give our children is setting the stage for future self-centered egotists.

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Worse, praising children when it’s undeserved or unwarranted has been linked to poor performance in children who are fearful of failure. In essence, every unnecessary “Good job!” has created a dependency on praise that can impede a child’s ability to excel later in life. Besides, humans don’t need to be congratulated for doing every mundane act that comes with being alive.

“Good job eating!”

“Way to go, honey! You put your stuff away!”

“Wow! Nice job taking a shower!

These empty, valueless praises instill the belief that a child needs a verbal reward for doing what every other person in all of humanity has done, often on a daily basis. Guess what? They don’t.

What about using the word “please?”

Social scientist Dr. Jeremy Sherman writes that using "please" is a way to signal a request for a favor. In the classroom setting, removing “please” from student directives signals that a child’s participation is not a favor, but an expectation. This can be pivotal to how a child internalizes instructions. By removing the choice, the child (ideally) would more likely respond affirmatively.

How can this style of teaching make a difference for parents?

By incorporating clear, direct instructions, minimal praise and consistent discipline, parents can foster respect in their own authority as well as the way children see themselves. Gone are the ineffective pleas for cooperation, the unnecessary congratulations for common, necessary tasks and focus on correcting negative behaviors.

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Instead, children are provided with clarity on what is expected of them as well as the consequences for not complying. They are taught to value and trust their own feelings about the outcome of their performance, rather than depend on wishy-washy congratulations for everything they do.

In short — we would empower our kids to be better, less self-centered versions of themselves, who listen to their parents and teachers, and focus on achievements, not negative attention. No-Nonsense Nurturing — and not saying please — seems to make a whole lot of sense.

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