As I said previously, getting our kids to use “Thank You” is tougher than “please”. Why is that? Because it happens AFTER something, not before like “please”. It’s easy for a kid to just forget and hard for us to not feel like we’re nagging to get them to do the thanking we expect them to do. It means we have to work a bit harder to get the response we want.
Let’s start with some ideas for you to ponder.
First, Start Early:
Even a baby can be taught to say thank you using sign language which I total admire folks who are able to start that young. However, most of you listening probably have older kids so just start your “thank you” training as soon as you can. What this really involves is training yourself, something that can be difficult for some of us, but every time you give something to one of your kids, stop and wait for a thank you. Don’t do anything else until you get a thank you. No nagging, just wait.
You can gently and empathetically prompt them with one of these phrases if it’s not obvious to your child what you’re waiting for. Something like:
- And what do you say?
- In our house we say what when someone does something for us?
- I’d love to hear that “thank you” in your sweet voice. It really fills me up when I’ve done something for you.
When you hear your kids getting help from someone else instead of yourself, feel free to gently use similar phrases.
- And what do we say to a friend who helps us?
- And what do we say when brother helps you?
Next, Be Consistent:
When we want to set up a new skill, we have to remember to use it A LOT! Feel free to have a Family Meeting and talk about thanks – why we use it and how it makes us feel when it is used. Let your kids know you’ll be making an effort to help the family use “thanks” every day and in every way. They might get tired of hearing you gently remind them but you need to respond to their gripes with kindness and empathy. “Oh, I know, it does take extra time to thank people but, in our family, we are thankful every day. Do you need a minute to gather your thoughts?”
Notice again my tone.
Lastly, Give Praise for Thankfulness:
A simple response from us as parents can help reinforce positive behavior. Here’s an idea, after a child uses “thank you” say:
- I loved how you said “thanks”. It warms my heart.
- I really appreciate that.
FAMILY THANKING EVENTS
In all of our families there are times when we should be thankful. Here are some ideas that come to mind that hopefully you can weave into your family’s DNA:
Dinner Thank Yous: At each dinner as a family have everyone say three thankfuls. Why three? I think our kids often just say something quick to get rid of the “task” at the dinner table so have categories of thanks for them to use. They can even help pick the categories to make it more appealing. One idea might be: something inside the house, something outside the house and something inside our hearts. Or, something at home, at school and at a friend’s house. Maybe: someone in your family, a friend nearby and a relative.
Come up with a creative list and try it out. Change it up over time! Change it with the season. Whatever you can to keep thankfulness examples alive in your home.
If your family is a bit crazy at dinner time, nighttime might be a good alternative for setting up a routine of thankfulness. It is usually a sweet time of day to pause and ask for thankfuls as the kids are cuddling into bed, maybe after books. You can use the same category idea if you want or keep it simple. Again, being consistent will help.
Thank You Notes for Gifts: Writing thank yous for gifts our children receive is excellent training for practicing thankfulness.
When my boys were young, even 3 or 4, I would have them write or draw thank yous for both birthday and Christmas presents. I participated a lot when they were that young but as they got older, we moved on to where they not only wrote the cards but they got out the supplies and wrote the envelopes and put stamps on and put them in the mailbox. Now a days that might be all old fashioned so if you’re family and friends accept email thank yous, that’s fine, but the really important part is setting up the practice a routine of: “I get gifts. I am thankful. I thank the people who were so thoughtful to think of me.”
Do something and do it EVERY time. One parent I know used to only let their child open a present if they’d already addressed the Thank You to the relative or friend. Some other families write a list of gifts on a notepad as they are opened so there’s an easy way to know what came from whom after all the unwrapping is over. They use that list to make their cards.
Making Manners Fun
Now that we’ve got some ideas of the basics, let’s see what else we can add that might help us have fun with being thankful in our homes.
One idea is really cool and I’d love to hear from you if you try it! I’d even be up for being invited to a dinner with your family if you’re in the Bay Area in California. Here’s the idea: have your family can stage a “fancy dinner” night where all good manners are overtly discussed and practiced. Get out the candles and the fancy table cloth (assuming it’s easily washable) and try it. Show them how they ask politely for food using “please” and to say “thank you” when someone passes them something. Give LOTS of praise too!
It’s so fun to go overboard and even have them pull out their chairs quietly and clear the table with a smile before being served some fancy dessert. Make it fun! Dress up in fancy clothes or have a color theme. It’s great to include a round of “What am I thankful for” at the same time. Maybe you can sneak in some lessons in how to use utensils politely or where the utensils are supposed to go around their plate. Make it feel like a 5-star event! Bottomline, have a bunch of fun exaggerating. Kids usually love that.
Moving on, if the Fancy Dinner idea wouldn’t work for your family for thankfulness training at mealtimes, maybe you have uncooperative teens who think you are totally weird, you should have a Family Meeting, you know how I love those, to talk about other ways in which you can improve on manners either at the table or anywhere else in life.
Bottomline, it starts with you! Make sure you’re modeling thoughtful, kind manners yourself. Our kids are little imitators who grow up into big imitators so being on the right page yourself will help.