Manners Monday: Mother, May I

Do you remember that game? How messed up is it that one person identified as the “mother” gets to dictate the rules and decide whether you get what you want even if you ask politely?! Ha. If you don’t remember the rules here you go: the kids line up at one end of a room, field or driveway and ask the mother politely to allow them to take any amount of steps forward. The mother then responds with, “yes, you may”, “no, you may not”, or suggests another course of action. The winner gets to the mother first and then gets to become the mother for the next round. But, we’re not playing  Mother, May I. We’re practicing using “May I” instead of “Can I”. It might be more grammar than manner but speaking properly is good manners so we’re doing it for this Manners Monday.

Somewhere along the line people started unnecessarily replacing “may I” with “can I” and it has become an epidemic. We are asking permission when asking, “may I?” We are not asking if someone knows if we are physically capable of doing something. In fact, to play it safe, you should just NEVER use the word “can” to lead a question that is asking for permission from someone else. Just don’t do it. The word that you really mean to use is “may”. Trust me. My mom used to drive me nuts with this rule. Whenever I’d ask, “Can I…” do this or that or have this or that, she would respond with, “I don’t know, can you?” I get aggravated just thinking about it. But, now I get it. It’s clearer and is actually what you mean to say. So, just say it. Let’s practice this week!


Use, “May I?” instead of, “Can I?”


Toddlers 1 – 3 years old: The littlest ones get a break this week. Parents, it’s up to you to practice in front of them. Catch each other saying, “Can I?” and correct it, kindly, in front of your little one as much as possible. You can dramatize the play to make it more fun for the little one to watch, too. If your toddler is advanced with his or her language, you can encourage the use of “may I” when asking permission. Just ask your little one to repeat after you. When you ask nicely for permission, you say, “May I”. Say, “May I have some more water, please.” When they ask correctly, reward them with whatever they ask for (within reason) and tell them that because they asked so nicely, you will let them have it or do it.

Kids 3 – 9 years old: Now they’re old enough to play along. Explain to them the difference between “can” and “may” and why the word can is not a question. We use can to make statements. “Yes, we can.” “I can help you.” “I can swim.”  But, the word “may” means there’s a choice that needs to be made, not just an ability being announced. So, whenever you’re asking permission for something you must use the question, “may I”. You can all correct each other all week. You’re probably used to correcting each other by now if you’ve been following along each week. And, your kids are probably getting better at accepting and responding to criticism because of it.

May I not Can I flat

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