When you were a child, how many times did someone encourage you to say “Thank you?” Though it may feel like heckling, consistently encouraging your kids to express thanks is key to building a life-long practice of gratitude.
Gratitude-building starts early. Very young children learn that people appreciate socially desired behaviors and this makes kids willing to behave better (most of the time). Preschoolers express gratitude with prompting from an adult, but very few will do so spontaneously. With time and practice, most children learn to demonstrate gratitude on their own. In studies with grade schoolers, children ten years old or older expressed gratitude more than 80% of the time compared to a tiny fraction of six-year-olds.
What if your child does not like a gift they have received? Help them initially by providing a script. The best one will identify what the giver did, what was “true” about the gift, and what is worth appreciating about it. You can turn a gift into a connection this way, without lying.
“Dear Aunt B,
Thank you for the book about spiders. The pictures are great. I did not know there were so many kinds of spiders!
So even if you don’t like urging your kids to write thank-you letters, know that it will be worthwhile to stick with it. Your child (of any age) may not enjoy the writing, or the gift, but repeatedly acting on gratitude will help build an enduring habit of thankfulness beneficial for life-long well-being and positive relationships.