Teaching Gratitude to Young Children
What does “thank you” even really mean?
“Thank you” is an expression used to show appreciation for something. “Thank you” is also one of the first phrases we begin teaching children and expecting them to incorporate in conversations or social interactions. But, does a child internally understand the meaning behind the thanks? Here are three easy strategies you can start using now to instill gratitude in young children – before they really understand the meaning behind the phrase;
Explain why you said thank you.
If you model using manners in your home but your child is not repeating them during social interactions – it’s likely because they do not have abstract thought yet – therefore they are unable to realize that a response should be communicated. Start to add the “why” to the end of your “thank you”. For example, if your child brings you their dirty dish after dinner for cleaning, you can respond with “Thank you! You are being helpful when you clean your place at the table”. You could use these phrases as well;
“Thank you for walking, running in the house is not safe.”
“Thank you for holding my hand in the store. This is a crowded place and I want to stay together.”
“Thanks for picking up your trash, leaving it behind is not polite.”
Mention gratitude often, from your point of view.
Including phrases like “I’m so grateful we get to go on a trip this weekend!” in your conversation with your child can trigger an understanding of “this is unique and special” and ultimately connect the gratitude – to the event. Consider other phrases that use versions of the word as well;
“Thankfully, we are going to see our family today!”
“I was full of gratitude when Cindy dropped cookies off at the house!”
“I’m thankful grandma is coming to visit, she’s going to help us in the garden when she’s here!”
Model grace and courtesy
As children go through the first few years of life, they are unconsciously absorbing information from their environment, which includes the adults in their environment! You can begin verbally and physically modeling gratitude and encouraging the responsibility in your child as well;
“Ms. Johnson is going to feed the dog when we are on our trip. I’m so grateful she’s going to help, let’s make her a Thank You Card!”
“After we visit Uncle Mike, we can call him and tell him how grateful we are for letting us stay!”
“I am going to call Grandpa and thank him for cutting the grass. Do you want to thank him with me?”
Encouraging saying “thank you” alongside modeling grateful behaviors are sure to increase the understanding of gratitude.