With Christmas just around the corner, an abundance of gifts and toys will be winging their way into most homes, leaving parents with the thorny issue of how best to get their kids to say thank-you – and more importantly, actually feel grateful for what they’ve received.
On the one hand, it’s not a good idea to force children to say ‘thank-you’ – it’s a bit like forcing your child to say ‘sorry’ when they don’t genuinely feel apologetic. You could simply be teaching your children to lie. But on the other hand, grandparents and other relatives will be expecting a thank you and you’ll look like a bad parent if you haven’t trained them to do so.
It is important to teach children to say thank you, not just because it’s good manners but to foster that feeling of gratitude. Research shows that people (adults and children alike) who are able to express gratitude freely, are happier, healthier and more optimistic as well being less likely to be depressed and envious of others. So, a valuable lesson for us all and children are never too young to start learning how to do this. Here are a couple of ideas for incorporating the gratitude habit into your daily lives.
Lead by example
If your children never witness you saying thank you, it will feel strange when you ask them to do so. Whether they’re carrying dirty plates to the kitchen sink, feeding the cat, responding to a request to ‘hurry up’, remember to say “thank you, that’s kind”. Little by little this habit will start to feel automatic.
Before each meal, get everyone to clink glasses and say a couple of words about how good it is to be together. Throughout the meal, remember to have a ‘good news only’ policy where everyone mentions a couple of things that they are grateful for today – even if it’s mundane, such as the bus came on time, the sun shone or we had my favourite pizza for lunch at school.
Create a Gratitude Jar
Whenever good things happen, make a point of highlighting how lucky you all are. Write the details down on a piece of paper saying “I’m so grateful for this – or aren’t we lucky? Let’s keep this moment special and save it in the Gratitude Jar”. As you begin to save the pieces of paper in the jar, your children will want to join in and start recording their own good moments. This will help develop that habit of seeking out the positive things in life. The jar will come in handy on days when things don’t go too well and everyone’s feeling miserable – you’ll be able to take the pieces of paper and read them out loud, reminding yourselves of how some days things go swimmingly well and are so much fun. If you’re not keen on calling it a ‘Gratitude Jar’, then call it something else – the Happy or Lucky Jar, for example.
Ways to say Thank you
Handwritten letters are falling out of fashion so it won’t be long before children grow up never having received or written a letter, which will be a great shame. For that reason alone, it’s good to teach your child how to do this, as part of learning how to express their emotions – putting their thoughts and feelings into words. It’s often suggested that the total number of sentences in a thank-you letter should be “half the child’s age”. So a five year old would write two or three sentences; a ten year old, five sentences and so on.
But if you feel there’s really no chance of getting your child to sit down and write a letter, then it’s time to get creative and think of some different options. Here are a few ideas:
- Technology will certainly come in handy here – take a video of your child on your phone saying thank you. You can then send it as a text message or email. It’s also good practice for speaking in public – a less self-conscious child will find it easier to stand up and read in front of the class.
- Or think about arranging a Skype call. It’s best to take some time beforehand to rehearse the call, so your child won’t be tongue-tied or feel embarrassed when they see Grandma on the computer screen. Have some pre-prepared notes in front of them for reference, using bullet points or pictures.
- Take a photo of your child wearing or using the gift. Print it out to 6” x 4” size, so it’s perfect to use as a postcard. Your child can sign their name on the back and get involved with addressing it and taking it to the post box.
- Younger children will have fun spelling out ‘THANK YOU’ in alphabet spaghetti or sweets and sticking them to a piece of card. The recipient will appreciate the effort that went into this, even if the message is brief.
Alicia Eaton is a Children’s Behavioural Specialist based in London’s Harley Street. She’s also best-selling author of ‘Words that Work: How to Get Kids to Do Almost Anything’; ‘Fix Your Life with NLP’ and ‘Stop Bedwetting in 7 Days’. She runs Workshops for parents and teachers as well giving short talks to schools and nurseries. Please contact for more details.