Improve Your Summer by Teaching Kids to Say "Thanks"

Your parenting will improve when your kids say thank you.

Posted May 31, 2017

Parenting is a tough job. Sure, there are the snuggles and smiles and awkward hugs. But a lot of it is a slog. Even with two older ones home for the summer, I'm reminded how much  it is just to have more bodies in the house. More hair in the sink. Extra pots to wash. And glasses and glasses and glasses on what seems to be every flat surface.

I do the obvious: assign chores, set rules about loading dishwashers, wiping down bathroom mirrors, and cleaning up after themselves. But there are still lots of times when having the kids home makes more work. It takes more time to make dinner for four than for two. The trash fills up faster. Clutter adds up. Even vacuuming takes longer.

That's Where "Thank You" Becomes Important.

Feeling unappreciated gnaws at the soul. When you go out shopping, cook up a meal, and put it on the table, you expect someone inhaling it like they've never eaten before to acknowledge that effort.  

Those clothes that magically show up clean and folded in their drawers? It would be nice if someone noticed that they didn't just grow there.

The dry towels neatly hanging on the racks in the bathroom?  Next to the useful boxes of tissues and the freshly replenished toilet paper? It wasn't elves.

All of the tasks of running a house take thought effort and time someone (you) almost definitely would rather have spent doing something other than doing it.

One of the reasons that many adults find time at work more rewarding than time at home is exactly that: at work their thoughtful effort is acknowledged. At least in the form of a paycheck. Often with thanks and praise.

That's where training comes in.  

"What's The Magic Word?"

Everyone has had that phrase dangled in front of them. When a child makes a direct request without saying "please," we stop and feel annoyed. That's especially true when they sound demanding or, worse still, entitled. We instinctively know that we're resentful at being commanded to do something. And as parents, who are in a position of authority, we expect a request to be a request. "Please" acknowledges that we can reasonably refuse.  

That's important psychologically. We have autonomy. Our relationship - parent and child—is acknowledged. It's polite.

When we see a child demanding things of a parent without that "please," something feels wrong. Many people, seeing that, will feel free to prompt the child for the "please." And all parents would feel comfortable raising an eyebrow or verbally prompting until they get one.

Thank You Is Just As Important

We tend to be less immediate in our demand for thanks, but it's just as important. A thank you acknowledges the work and effort that was done. Effort—caregiving—is a gift, and one we expect to be acknowledged.

Not saying 'thank you' shows a lack of appreciation. This is a grating characteristic in a co-worker or a boss. It's worse when the person is someone you're supposed to have authority over.  

Resentment Poisons Relationships. 

That's why it's worth prompting your kid for a thank you. You can't ask someone to feel grateful. But you can prompt them to acknowledge a gift. 

Most of the time kids do appreciate little things—handing them a bowl of cereal, driving them to the movies, handing them a stack of clean clothes. But they're paying attention to other things. They're distracted by their video game or arguing with their sister or sulking about the friend who didn't ask them over to play.

Calling attention to the fact that someone just did something for them does four things: all of which are good for them.  

  • It brings their attention to small things they should be grateful for.  All the research says that gratitude and appreciation increase happiness and reduce depression. It's part of mindfulness. Gratitude is a habit that should be nurtured.
  • It makes you feel appreciated.  Resentment is never healthy in a relationship, especially one where one person is obligated to care for the other.  It's a lot easier taking care of someone when you feel they acknowledge your effort and show they notice and appreciate it. No one likes to feel like a potted plant.
  • It makes it more likely you'll keep doing it.  Being rewarded is—well—rewarding. When we're rewarded with a thank you it makes it much more likely that we'll repeat what we just did again. So if they want those clean towels to keep showing up, a brief thanks for folding the laundry increases the likelihood it will happen.
  • It makes them better people. We spend out lives surrounded by people doing us favors. They sort our letters. They drive our taxis.They bag our groceries. A habit of saying thanks goes a long way in making the world a nicer place to live.

It Goes Both Ways

How to get kids to say thanks?  Four simple steps:

  • Model the behavior. Saying thank you to your child goes a long way towards building that habit. Opening doors. Carrying groceries. Emptying dishwashers. Picking up their rooms.There are dozens of times a day when you can thank a child for contributing to the household. Do it. Let them see you thanking the cashier as well.
  • Keep prompts light and infrequent. When I hand my child a stack of laundry I expect a "thanks." When they take it with a grunt and start to walk away a prompt will definitely be forthcoming—the eyebrow, "Excuse me, I didn't hear you...," or, rarely, the dreaded "What do you say?"  Whichever parent cooks, the other parent in our home will always start dinner with a thanks and compliment—and the kids are wise enough to join in. Background tasks—the vacuuming, counter wiping, lawn mowing? Forget it. Life is life. We've all got tasks to do.  
  • Give them chores.  People who work appreciate people who work. Kids who wash pots appreciate the effort it takes to clean a kitchen. Otherwise it's something magical that just happens.  
  • Tell them when you are annoyed  Nothing wrong with a brief "Hey, did you think those socks magically rolled themselves?" If you're fuming, it's going to come out. Say it briefly and without inducing guilt. "Yo, think you could look up from that video game long enough to say thanks?" A little bit of sheepishness on their part goes a long way towards reminding them to say it spontaneously next time.

Say "you're welcome'.  "No problem" minimizes their endebtedness (fine).  But "you're welcome" means you're happy to have done it.

Being acknowledged for the work you do makes it easier to put up with a lot of the drudgery of keeping together a houseful of kids. It's money in the bank.