Five Tips for Getting Your Child to Say “Thank you” at Christmas (And All Year Long)
By: Maralee McKee
A classic case of opening and disregarding without slowing down to show appreciation.
How do we get our children to say “thank you” and actually mean it? Though the classic Christmas carol promises that the holidays are “the most wonderful time of the year,” that don’t always feel that way that way to a mom who has just watched her child open four presents without saying one “thank you.” While we wish our children would express thankfulness as freely as they express dissatisfaction, it’s especially hard for children to slow down to express gratitude in the middle of the tinsel-strewn excitement of December.
With that in mind, here are five tips for getting children (and teens) to say “thank you.”
1. Model gratitude. As moms we have to speak the language of gratitude fluently before we can expect our children to even pick up a phrase or two. Studies show that kids use courtesy words only about 25 percent as much as they hear them. If “please” and “thank you” don’t roll off our tongues at every opportunity, our children won’t be exposed to these words enough to remember to say them as often as they should.
2. Teach the meaning. Most children (and teens) aren’t clear about the meaning of “thank you.” It doesn’t translate as, “I love this!” It means, “I notice you did something for me.” Kids often feel as if saying “thank you” is telling a fib if the gift they just opened or the food set in front of them isn’t something they find appealing. When they understand that saying “thank you” has nothing to do with how much they like or don’t like what they’re thanking the other person for, they are more apt to say it — and mean it.
3. Talk about the feeling. Talk to your children about how they feel when something special they did is appreciated, and how that compares to when no one seems to notice their efforts. Explain that every time they say “thank you,” they’re passing on the gift of the good feeling of being regarded and appreciated.
4. Eliminate the element of surprise. No one likes to enter an unknown situation or find themselves at a loss for words. In the days leading up to any social event, tell your child all about the party. Give him details about who will be there, how guests will be dressed, what everyone will be eating, and what he can expect in the way of possible conversations or scenarios. Give your child some fallback scripts and actions. Being prepared will help your child feel secure. You might say to your young son:
“Corbett, at our party on Friday night, Great Aunt Edith is probably going to hug you and tell you that you’re too skinny. I know you don’t see her that often, so you feel weird about hugging her. And I know that you don’t like it when people say you’re skinny.
“If she hugs you, hug her back, smile, and say, ‘Merry Christmas, Aunt Edith. Thank you for coming to our party.’ If she says you’re too skinny, then nicely say, ‘This is just how I am for now. Don’t worry. I eat lots.’
“She’s getting older and she loves you a lot. When you pay attention to her, it makes her very happy, and making people happy is a good gift to give, don’t you think?”
5. Practice gratitude towards the giver. Teach your child that the giver is more important than the gift. Role-playing is a great way to do this with younger children. A day or two before the party, get out a gift bag and put something boring inside, like a pair of socks. Use this as a visual aid for your child to practice opening a present that is not as thrilling as hoped. Explain that it isn’t necessary to fib and say they love it. However, they should acknowledge the gift by smiling, making eye contact with the giver, and saying something like, “Thank you for thinking of me, Uncle Rob!” In addition, role-play how to slow down and say “thank you” after opening each gift. Teaching your child to thank the giver before going on to the next gift prevents the open and disregard routine that happens when children (and teens) tear open packages without showing thought toward the gift or the giver.
As moms, it’s our honor and responsibility to teach our children everything they’ll need to eventually thrive on their own. Expressing gratitude is a vital life skill, and the overflow of gratitude is joy. The parties and presents of the holidays are a great opportunity for your child to learn how to bring joy to others by saying “thank you.”
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