The True Meaning of Thank You: How to Teach Heartfelt Manners to Your Kids

Photo by Sean Locke / Stocky United / 83095
Photo by Sean Locke / Stocksy

There's nothing quite so heartwarming as a child's sweet-voiced, "Thank you!" And we beam with pride when our little one says, "Excuse me, Mama," instead of constantly interrupting. Nice manners are just so, well, nice!  But are they really that important? Yes, indeed! Good manners are about more than polite words. They allow our kids to practice bring respectful, kind, and considerate to others—all of which help children grow up to be good friends, and the kind of person that we enjoy being around. 

Want to teach lovely manners to your little one?  Here's how! 

1. Start at birth.

Begin to introduce simple words like thank you starting at birth. Speak these often and encourage your child to use them as soon as they begin talking.

2. Be a good role model.

Children are the best copy cats in the world, and the most important interaction your child sees is the one between you and her. Give her an enthusiastic thank you when she offers you a toy (even as an infant). At our learning centers, our teachers often use thank you to confirm positive behaviors, for example, "Thank you for listening so well and coming to wash your hands for lunch." Note to the grown-ups: Remember to say excuse me when you have to interrupt her preschool play date, even if you're in a rush! 

3. Build awareness of feelings.

Polite people are considerate of how other people feel. Build your child’s awareness of emotion by explaining his own feelings in simple language. You might say, “You feel mad because you can’t reach that toy. Mommy will get it for you to make you feel better.” When your child is around 18 months old, start to talk about the feelings of others. Characters in books make for great conversations about emotions.

4. Raise a helper.

Give your child plenty of opportunities to help you—and then show your appreciation when he does. This can be as simple as bringing an empty cup to the kitchen sink. Talk about how you feel when your child helps you and encourage him to offer help to others whenever you see an opportunity.

5. Work on impulse control.

Before a child learns how to control her impulses, she may (inadvertently) be less than polite. If she wants a toy, for example, she may grab it from her sister’s hands. When your child is around two years old, you can expect her to control her impulses with your help, at least some of the time. Encourage her by saying things like, “Your friend is playing with that toy right now. Why don’t you play with this puzzle until it’s your turn?”
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