Encourage your child to say “Thank you” regularly. Offer gentle reminders like, “Your brother let you go first. What should you say to him?” or “What do you say to Grandma for giving you a cookie?”
While it may seem like forcing a ”thank you” doesn’t stir up any real gratitude, consider it a first step in the process. It can help kids start to recognize when others have given them something, whether it’s something tangible like a gift, or intangible like time.
So even if it doesn’t seem like genuine appreciation when your child needs a reminder, encouraging them to verbally express appreciation can be an important learning tool for genuine gratitude down the line.
You can also encourage your kids to write “thank you” notes to people who give them gifts or show them kindness. Your child might color a picture for a grandparent who purchased a birthday gift for them. Or you might encourage your teen to write a “thank you” letter to a special coach who has made an impact on their lives.
Make sure to point out times when your child shows gratitude without a prompt from you. Praise prosocial behavior by saying things like, “I really like the way you thanked your friend for sharing with you today,” or “Nice job remembering to say ‘thank you’ to your teacher when she reminded you to get your backpack.” Positive attention will reinforce the importance of showing gratitude.
Ask Gratitude Questions
Once your child remembers to say “thank you” regularly, it can be time to dig a little deeper to ensure that they aren’t just going through the socially-prescribed motions of saying “Thank you.” Start having conversations about what it means to be thankful, and take their understanding of gratitude to a whole new level by incorporating more gratitude components.
Gratitude has four parts:
- Noticing – Recognizing the things you have to be grateful for.
- Thinking – Thinking about why you’ve been given those things.
- Feeling – The emotions you experience as a result of the things you’ve been given.
- Doing – The way you express appreciation.
Researchers found that most parents stayed focused on what children do to show gratitude. While 85% of parents said they prompted their kids to say “thank you,” only 39% encouraged children to show gratitude in a way that went beyond good manners. Also, only a third of parents asked their kids how a gift made them feel, and only 22% asked why they thought someone had given them a gift.
Researchers from UNC encourage parents to ask kids questions to help foster a deeper sense of gratitude. Here are some questions that can help kids experience all four gratitude components:
- Notice – What do you have in your life to be grateful for? Are there things to be grateful for beyond the actual gifts someone has given you? Are you grateful for any people in your life?
- Think – What do you think about this present?
- Feel – Does it make you feel happy to get this gift? What does it feel like inside? What about this gift makes you feel happy?
- Do – Is there a way to show how you feel about this gift? Does the feeling you have about this gift make you want to share this feeling by giving it to someone else?