“Say ‘thank you’” or “What do you say?” — As parents we have all used these short statements or verbal prompts as reminders to young children to show gratitude when given a gift or if they are on the receiving end of a compliment or act of kindness. I know that previous sentence seems a bit wordy but stay with me. Imagine the common scenarios, “Johnny, Billy gave you half of his sandwich what should you say?” or “Mrs. Smith said she likes your headband, Mary. Say ‘thank you.’’ But what does “thank you”really mean to a young child? Are we really setting them up for a robotic response with no affect? It’s almost like the complex issue of forcing children to apologize when they are not ready to offer an apology. For me, there seems to be no point in forcing a child to “say sorry” if they truly do not have any grief or remorse for their actions or what happened. In place of a forced apology, a different conversation surround feelings needs to take precedence. Anyhow, that is a separate topic that would be best saved for a future blog entry. Bottom line, showing appreciation and being thankful is overall a pretty broad topic and a complex emotion. It’s important to break it down into terms that young children will be able to comprehend.
Have you ever talked to your child about what it means to be thankful? Think about what the message that’s conveyed when we nudge a child to say thank you. Are we asking them for a canned response by simply acknowledging a gift or gesture? Or, are we really asking them to respond with more affect when they repeat the words thank you. Chances are we as parents are hoping that eventually children will be able to show appreciation and be genuine and authentic when they utter the words thank you. Here is where the hard work starts. . .
Children can easily model and imitate the behaviors of the adults around them. They can watch us smile and say thanks. They can even be prompted by others to say thank you. Sure, learning to respond with a say thank you can be done within the first 18 months of life. However, nurturing them to develop the genuine feeling of being thankful takes time. As parents it is our job to help children make sense of the social mores in today’s world. The easiest way to help children navigate through what it means to be thankful starts off by having a conversation with them. Talk to your children daily about how they feel when they are on the receiving end of a kind gesture or gift. Help them describe their feelings. Sometimes their feelings may not be that of gratitude or appreciation but perhaps discomfort, shyness, or maybe even shame. If this is the case, it would make sense as to why your child may be struggling to show thankfulness in a situation when the words we are asking them to repeat do not match their feelings. As adults we’ve all been in the situations where we may say thank you to just be polite when inside, our emotions are quite different. Kids don’t have the years of practice that we have to “err on the side caution of hurting someone’s feelings.” In fact, it’s the just opposite. For young children, their feelings are real and they are very much in the moment. This is where daily practice and conversations around being thankful or showing appreciate needs to happen. Practice role playing the act of gift giving with your child. Guide them in having conversations around what they can appreciate and find kindness in the beauty of their surrounding world.
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