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Building Positive Connections with "Please" and "Thank You"

McGillis third-grade students and teacher Kim Denkers sharing 'the gift".

McGillis third-grade students and teacher Kim Denkers sharing 'the gift".

by Sarah Davies, School Psychologist


Respect. How to have it, how to show it, and what it means are often big concepts for young children to grasp. At the heart of respect is caring. Respect is caring about how words and actions may impact others.


Respect has two parts:


Having respect for someone because of how their actions impact others.
You can have respect for others, and you can have respect for yourself. Respecting others is when you feel positively toward a person because of how they affect others; self-respect means you feel good about who you are, the types of choices you make, and the impact you have on others. Examples of having respect include:

  • a person that treats other people kindly
  • someone who worked hard to achieve something
  • someone who overcame a challenge


Showing respect means changing your actions to be sure you don't have a negative impact on others. 
Showing respect to someone means you act in a way that shows you care about others' feelings and well-being.  Showing respect for others includes things like:

  • not calling people hurtful names
  • using a polite tone even when you're upset
  • thinking about whether what you want to do will hurt someone else


To understand why respect is important, think about what life would be like if we don't treat each other with respect. All of us in society need to treat each other with respect if we want to feel safe and live peacefully together. Respect is important because it means we treat others the way we want to be treated.


The Toolbox, our social-emotional curriculum used in the Lower School, aims to create a world of kind, connected human beings. Learning and using the tools helps us all be strong, effective, and kind. It helps us build resilience, self-mastery, and empathy for ourselves and others. The Please and Thank You Tool is pivotal in developing a student’s inner confidence in having and showing respect. "At the beginning of the year, we talked about how the words 'please' and 'thank you' are like keys that open the door to someone's heart," shared Kira Wallace, McGillis kindergarten teacher. "We began to practice our manners at lunchtime especially, as I passed out sandwiches and hot lunches. Now, that small practice has grown, and students regularly thank one another for small acts of help, without any adult prompting." 


Kindergarten student creating Please and Thank You Tool

Kindergarten student creating Please and Thank You Tool 

“Please” and “thank you” are magic words that help people feel good. Expressing gratitude and giving thanks are basic principles of kindness and generosity. This opens the doorway to intimacy and caring relationships. The icon for the Please and Thank You Tool is represented by a key because using these words are the “keys” to open up communication and make a heartfelt connection to others.


The words “please” and “thank you” are the words of kindness and civility. They are very powerful and make a big impact when said with heart. It is important to recognize that saying the words “please” and “thank you”, and saying them with heart - genuinely meaning them - takes intention and courage. The objective of this tool is to add these words to our everyday awareness and vocabulary. When this happens, the qualify and tone of our voices, body language, and basic attitudes change, and we develop more respect and positive regard for ourselves and for others.


"Once a student says 'please' or 'thank you', and I’ll say 'oh so nice of you to use your tools'  it becomes a chain reaction and they all start saying 'thank you so much Miss Stacey, or 'you are so nice, is you bucket full right now?' Students just want to please, especially in kindergarten, so as soon as they do something as simple as using their manners, or other tools, their entire day is just boosted up and they want to continue to make people feel good. Often times we have one student hold the door for a line of 20 to 24 students and adults. I’ll always ask the beginning of the line 'what do we say to the person holding the door?' and as each student goes through the door, I overhear comments such as, 'thank you so much for holding the door', 'oh so nice of you', 'thank you, would you like some help?' The Please and Thank You Tool is a powerful tool for kindergartners because they recognize it as magical in making adults or other students feel good, feel like they are showing respect, and everyone feels proud and boosted up," shares Stacey Collett, McGillis kindergarten teacher


By consciously softening the intention of our requests or invitations, we create an atmosphere of kindness and model what we could like to receive from others. When we authentically use "please" and "thank you", we are strengthening the quality of our relationships and the positive connections we have with others. Using them habitually has the power to raise the bar on kindness and consideration throughout the school community.

A McGillis second-grader's journal entry about the "Please and Thank You Tool"

A McGillis second-grader's journal entry about the "Please and Thank You Tool"


“Please” turns demands into requests. “Thank you” turns impositions into invitations. They are polite and effective inducements to action. When adults consciously employ these words, children want to meet the request and show their connections through their willingness to participate wholeheartedly.


"For years, I have been sharing with my students what I call The Gift," offers Kim Denkers, McGillis 3rd grade teacher. "The concept compliments most Toolbox tools and is represented with a gesture of cupping your hands together in front of you. Its representation extends both ways from me to the students and the students back to me. With third-grade students, we talk about the Please and Thank You Tool being a gift that you are giving to others, reaching your cupped hands out, and others are giving the gift to you, pulling your cupped hands in. It's a simple and easy gift exchange that makes the recipient feel valued, heard, seen, and appreciated. An example of this is when I am walking around the classroom passing out papers or supplies. The moment I hear a student use 'please' or 'thank you', l I acknowledge with a simple, 'I appreciate your gift'. It doesn't take long before other students overhear or recognize what their classmates are doing and in no time I have a room of kiddos expressing and using their Please and Thank You Tool. It's like dominos falling one right after another. At times all I need to do is show my class my cupped hands and they instantly know what can be meant by it". 


Looking more closely at the practice of giving thanks opens the door to discussions of what we are grateful for. Giving thanks can be practiced more often than just during the Thanksgiving holiday. When we bring these words to students’ attention throughout the entire school year, we build an awareness of the many aspects of our lives for which we can be grateful. It helps us see the cup as half full as opposed to half-empty, and it ultimately changes our attitudes and how we view the words. As children grow, sometimes kindness and civility don’t seem to be in their behavioral repertoires. We want to continue to model and practice the use of these simple words in a positive manner until they become a natural part of our vocabulary and behavior.


To learn more about our Lower School's Social-Emotional program, click here