Cruising around a Waldorf school, you’re sure to hear the word “may” used quite a bit. As in “you MAY pick it up” “you may join us for circle” or “you may have a seat” . This is a little secret trick, used both by parents and teachers, to encourage children to cooperate. It’s used with decisiveness and direction, rather than the classic parental way of asking if a child “wants” to do something (like brushing teeth or cleaning their room — which, of course they don’t “want” to do!) I’ve seen it work magic.
This passage from “Beyond the Rainbow Bridge” breaks it down: “There is a magic word, not authoritarian or permissive, which works well with children. The word is may….It contains no question to answer or ignore. In the word may is the quality of privilege. ‘You may place your boots on the mat.’ I have also heard parents say [this] to their children but then weaken the statement by tacking on ‘OK?’. Is this an effort to soften what seems too demanding a request? What does the ‘OK?’ mean? If it isn’t OK, does that mean the child doesn’t have to do it? Does the child have a choice or not? This can create confusion and insecurity for the child. The child feels most secure when he knows that his parents, teachers, and caregivers know what is best for him.” So…. no “OK?”s….. Ok?! xxx, Leah