Ask An Expert
Tired of Telling Your Kid To Say Thank You? Try This.
Manners expert Sunita Padda makes the case that to teach kids gratitude, we must practice empathy. She shows us why it matters and how to start the conversation.
- Written By
- Sunita Padda
Even though I studied dining and social etiquette in London, I make it a point to remove the “stuffy-ness” around the rules of manners. Kids (and adults) are far more likely to use good manners if they know they directly impact others. We wait for others to receive their meals before starting our own so that the person doesn’t feel left out, or awkward. We don’t hand out invites in front of those not invited so as to not hurt feelings. We thank Grandma for the present, even if it’s not what we were hoping to receive. The list goes on. Manners are meant to create a space of inclusivity for all.
The thing parents ask us the most is, “How can I teach my kids to be more grateful?!” and I’ve found that it goes beyond saying thank you and writing diligent thank you notes. To teach kids gratitude, we also have to practice empathy. While gratitude involves focusing on the positives in their lives, empathy is seeing a situation from other perspectives. It’s a skill kids learn from having many conversations and everyday practice.
Talk About Why.
How many of us have had to remind our kids to say thank you? While consistency is key when it comes to “please” and “thank you” it’s always more meaningful to go a step further and discuss why we are saying thank you and how it makes others feel. Discussing the difference between “thanks” and “Thank you for my toy, I’m excited to play with it tonight!” is a great lesson in both gratitude and empathy.
Role-playing here is a great way to show how giving feels even sweeter when the recipient shows true appreciation for your time and effort. This is also a great time to discuss what to do when the gift isn’t to your liking. This is a time to think about empathy for the gift-giver.
Gratitude Challenge: Ask your kids, “How would they feel if they knew you didn’t like a gift? How much time and resources went into them getting a gift? What can we do to make the giver feel appreciated?”
Act It Out.
Kids love acting out scenarios–especially if they get to be the main character! Spend time playing different roles, like the child who received a gazillion gifts from Santa and the child who didn’t. Reversing the roles and placing our kids in a position they might be new to will build resilience, and give them the gift of seeing a new perspective. The goal here is to have our children think about how their actions could make others feel. Do they need to list every video game they received when they get to school? “We don’t want to scold our children to show manners,” explains Sunita. “That defeats the purpose of making it meaningful and long-lasting.” We want our children to develop a perspective outside of themselves. This takes time and empathy. Let’s be patient while we instill these values to build character.
Gratitude Challenge: Ask your kids, “How can we make other people feel more comfortable around gift-giving during Valentine’s, birthdays, and holidays?” Our world will be so much kinder for it!
Share the (precious) resource of time.
In a materialistic world, we need to take the time to show our kids what other forms of love look like. Whether cooking, baking, or hosting others, explain why you are putting forth time and effort to your child. This is two lessons in one activity: Time is a beautiful gift, and appreciation can come in many forms, not only through tangible items like gifts.
Gratitude Challenge: Ask your kids, “What ways can we use our time to show our family and friends we love them? What types of activities would they enjoy doing together?” Planning time together for a board game evening, decorating cookies, going for a nature walk, or making something with your hands are all beautiful examples of giving time (and love!) You could also use your time to help friends and family with things like setting the table, shoveling snow, or raking leaves.
And last but not least, our kids really do reflect our values and actions at home. It’s easy to take everything we have for granted, but taking a moment to list out even the basics that a lot of the world doesn’t have, is a very humbling activity for all of us, regardless of age!
Sunita Padda is a mother of three, life-long teacher, and the Founder of Manners & Co. that makes products that make manners fun for kids–creating a generation of inclusive and empathetic adults. For more tips follow along on Instagram @manners_co.