Every parent knows they need to teach their children good manners, including saying “thank you” when something is given to them or done for them. But what about going beyond “thank you” to teach “appreciation”?
We don’t necessarily teach kids WHY we thank people for getting us a glass of milk, or a birthday present, or for giving us a ride to a friend’s house, for instance. It’s about getting them to think beyond a pat response to really think about what went into that nice gesture; Grandma spent a long time at the store, looking at everything to choose something she really thought you’d love; Dad took his free time on a Saturday to drive you to your friend’s house; and Mom got you a glass of milk just to be nice, because she thought you’d want it with your toast. There’s a bit of a story behind every kind gesture everyone does for us. Taking a moment to acknowledge that gesture, even silently to ourselves, helps create a kinder, more understanding and compassionate child.
Those times when, as parents, we are feeling completely unappreciated, and when our kids seem to have forgotten to say thank you for ANYTHING, are not the teachable moments! We may jump into a tirade about how we really didn’t have to get them a glass of milk because they are perfectly capable of getting one themselves but we were being nice. Those tirades don’t make a child think “Wow, Mom really does a lot for me and I never realized it. I must change this behavior and my lack of appreciation immediately.” Instead, the tirades only make the child think, “Wow, mom’s totally losing it.”
So how do we teach appreciation along with gratitude? When we remind children to say “thank you,” we can occasionally add in a bit of explanation on the back story: “Even though you didn’t ask for a glass of milk, I know you like milk with your toast so I wanted to do something nice and get it for you,” you might say. Or when you are no longer in front of gift-giving-Grandma, explain that it was really nice of Grandma to take her time to choose just the right gift.
The tricky part is to not sound like you’re laying a guilt trip on the kid. Part of teaching both gratitude and appreciation is to also teach that doing good for others just feels wonderful and people are glad to do it. Gratitude – Appreciation – Joy of Giving to Others – those are all great lessons kids will need all their lives and the sooner we teach them, the better.
Another reason to teach the kids about saying “Thanks” is their future work life. Ironically, this is a hot topic in most workplaces right now. Employees want their bosses to acknowledge when they’ve done a good job or gone above and beyond. They want recognition, and it does not have to be a gold watch or big bonus check. Thanks with specific details are ideal and more effective at encouraging good behavior. “John, you did a great job with this report, and it helped land a big account for our company. Thank for your extra efforts!” is far more powerful and motivating than a non-specific “Good job.”
Translated into kid-speak for home life, this may sound something like, “Thank you, Johnny, for being so polite to Mrs. Smith! That shows what a nice person you are and makes her feel happy!” Sure, it takes more effort, but it is well worth it if you want to reinforce good behavior and compassion from your kids. And, though they’ll never know it, you are setting them up for success in their later life in their career and establishing a strong foundation for them to be an effective leader.
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