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Teaching Children to Say ‘Thank You’

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

What do you say?

Say ‘thank you.”

These phrases are uttered in sing-song voices by parents around the country.  We all want our children to be thankful and polite, but are our current methods effective?  In our previous post, we addressed the fact that children can be taught empathy.  Today we will look at some tips on how to teach our children to say thank you without the use of excessive prompts or reminders.

Start young.  Even babies can learn to say thank you with the use of baby signs.  Whenever your little one hands you something, smile and say ‘thank you!” while placing the tips of your fingers in front of your lips and then extending your hand downward.  You can check out a simple demonstration here.  When your baby begins to use such signs (or their own attempt at a verbal thank you), encourage her with smiles and hugs, recognizing her use of good manners.  Your enthusiastic response will encourage her to continue with this practice.

Be a good role model.  If we want our children to say thank you, we need to make sure that we are doing it ourselves.  We can get in the habit of giving instructions or commands to our kids and forget the importance of these two little kind and thoughtful words.  We can encourage our children to be thankful by simply remembering to say “thank you” for a completed task.  Along the same lines, many parents have their children send thank you cards for gifts.  This is a wonderful practice – for kids and grown-ups alike.  If it has been a while since you have sent a note of thanks to someone in your life, take some time to do that this week.  You will be cultivating a heart of gratitude within yourself and providing an excellent example to your children.

Master the hand-off.  You can teach your children gratitude “in vivo” – right when it happens – without having to prompt them to do so after the fact.  The next time you hand your child something, don’t complete the hand off until you hear a “thank you.”  When he looks up at you quizzically, wondering why you have not let go, you can say, “When something is handed to you, it is polite to say ‘thank you’.”  The next time, you will likely only have to raise your eyebrows before he remembers to say thanks.  The more frequently you practice this, the more readily this response will become a habit.

More than words.  A thank you out of habit or courtesy is good.  A thank you that comes from the heart is better.  Anyone can say the words, but a truly grateful heart will not just utter, but show, thanks.  To help your children connect their hearts to their words, point out whenever you see thanks in action around you.  Here are some examples:

  • “When you clear your place like that, it feels like a ‘thank you’ for dinner.”
  • “I am doing the shopping for Mrs. Smith, because I was so thankful when someone shopped for me when I was sick.”
  • “I see a thankful heart in you when you put your brother’s toys back when you are done playing with them.”

Make a list and check it twice.  It is hard to be thankful if all you can see is what you lack.  Help your children recognize all that they have by making a list of thanks together.  This should be a very big list.  If they have trouble coming up with ideas, simply instruct them to look around- blessings abound.  Keep this list handy or posted publicly, to remind everyone that “thank you’s” should come easily as there is quite a bit for which to be thankful.

Study Scripture on the topic of thanks.  Here are some wonderful Scriptures on the topic of thanksgiving.  Meditating on God’s word is a wonderful way to allow thanks to penetrate our hearts.

1 Chronicles 16:34
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Psalm 107:8
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men,

1 Corinthians 15:57
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Colossians 3:15 – 17
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

What do you do in your family to ensure that your children develop an “attitude of gratitude”?

[Photo credit: RainbowhART from morguefile.com]

About the author

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.

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