How to encourage children to say thank you

My daughter used to be that child who didn’t say thank you when she received a present. It wasn’t so much that she forgot to say thank you; she outright refused to say thank you.

But wait – before you judge her parents’ parenting skills, ahem, mine – my daughter is also fiercely shy and slow to warm up, even with people she loves and sees regularly. To her, saying thank you invites even more attention to her, and she just can’t handle it. It’s even worse when her Mommy or Daddy pressure her in front of her waiting audience. Trust me, I’ve tried it and it didn’t end well!

Now that my pumpkin is 4 years old, I’m so proud to say she is now comfortable with saying her ‘pleases and thank-yous.’ She often needs gentle reminders, but it’s progress! Just last weekend we took her to a party with face painters and a balloon artist, and she had no problem with expressing her thanks. (Yay!)

Do you also find yourself struggling to get your children to say thank you?  With the holidays around the corner, are you dreading gift opening like I did just a year ago?  Try some of these strategies that helped my daughter learn to say thank you:

Have fun role-playing!
Before the festivities, role-play gift giving and receiving. My kids have lots of fun with this one. Wrap up some old toys or use a small blanket to ‘wrap up’ toys. Practise taking turns to unwrap your gifts and saying thank you, and add some not-so-desirable items to this mix in case Grandma buys them a pack of socks!

While you are role-playing, talk about why it’s important to say thank you.
When you say thank you, point out how happy they feel to hear it, and how good it makes you feel to say it. What does gratitude feel like? What are different ways we can show our gratitude? Talk about how it makes us feel to show gratitude and to say thank you. Point out how people might feel sad if they don’t receive a thank you.

Before the gift-giving starts, share your expectations.
Explain what’s going to happen before you head over to Grandma’s, and talk about what behaviour you expect from them, e.g.“When we open gifts, we will say thank you to the person who gave it to us.”

Praise!
Remember to focus on what your children do right, not on what they do wrong.

What if my child doesn’t say please and thank you?
This can sometimes be embarrassing, but it doesn’t have to be. Help your child save face by gently reminding them. If prompting doesn’t work, it’s okay to come up with other ways to show gratitude. Would your child prefer to hug or high-five their gift-giver? Or send a thank-you card/drawing? Last year when my daughter refused to say thank you at our Christmas exchange, I would help her out by saying things like, “Oh wow, look at that pretty dress! What do we say to Auntie Mary?…Thank you!!” A few days later my daughter and I decided to thank Auntie Mary by sending a photo of her enjoying her new dress.

Model how you want your children to act
Let them see you say please and thank you every day; to your partner, the grocery store clerk, to them!

One thing that has really helped my daughter with our Christmas gift exchange is taking turns opening gifts one at a time. It slows down the gift-giving process and gives my daughter time to say thank you, and a chance for her to watch us saying thank you to each other.

Do you have a story to share or other tips to encourage our children to say thank you over the holidays? Please share them with us!

For parenting information or to speak with a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.

About Andrea Scott RN

I’m a public health nurse with the HaltonParents team – you’ll find me blogging, tweeting and answering emails. I’ve been working for the Halton Region Health Department since 2006 and my focus has been on supporting parents with babies and little kids. I have two little ones myself, “Pumpkin” and “Monkey” who give me plenty to blog about! :)
This entry was posted in Parenting, preschoolers, School-aged Children, Toddlers and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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