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Say Thank You?

by Aigul Aubanova on July 10, 2008

in Articles for parents

My husband and I visited a lovely home.  The house full of grandchildren made its owners, grandma and grandpa, proud and happy.  The parents grown up children with their own kids visited the parents every holiday.  On the day we were invited they had a birthday party for the seven year old grandson.  After all traditional ceremonies (meal, cake and candles with the “happy birthday” song) were done, the father of the boy of honor declared that he was going to say wishes to his son.  It was something they acquired from the other people’s traditions: to tell your son good words about him in front of other people and to say thanks for his being a good boy and for the good he has done for his family, grandparents and others.  After that the birthday presents from the parents followed.  Then it was the next guest’s turn of and, of course, the guest’s presents.

The boy was sitting in a chair, where everyone could see him, listening to the wishes and accepting presents.  His father was near, watching him.  Every time the boy opened a present the family and friends showed their approval with exclamations and applause.  From time to time his father commented on the gifts and how the boy could use them.  It was obvious that the father was proud of the boy, as anybody else in his shoes would be.  He also was proud of himself being a good father and teaching his boy good manners.  Thus he reminded the boy to say “Thank you.”  One of the guests brought a fishing rod, which the kid didn’t have before and was very curious to immediately test the new gift.  His father said, “You’ve forgotten to say something, son.”  The boy didn’t respond, being captured with the new images of the thrill of fishing.  The father repeated, “Say thank you to Uncle John!”

The father persisted and the boy reluctantly returned back to the room from his images and quickly said, “Thank you!”  After that his father smiled, looking apologetically to Uncle John for delayed gratification.  Uncle John, I believe, felt embarrassed as well, as it was all he wanted – that the boy said thank you to him.  I think everyone who brings presents to children don’t really think of being given words of gratitude.  All they think of is the joy they will bring to the child with their present.  But for some reason parents are very embarrassed for their child when the latter doesn’t say thanks to people.

In most cases that reason is a desire of parents to teach their kids to be polite to people.  This is very honorable desire, but very often it is achieved at the expense of a child’s feelings, which have been hurt to some degree.  First of all, it is the embarrassment of being taught in front of other people; it is the shame of realization that the kid has forgotten something, what makes him or her a good boy or a good girl.  So kids feel, “Again, I am bad.”  Secondly, the actions of adults disturb the children’s wonder of something new, first joys of investigation, perhaps, joys of happiness.

Agatha Christie in her autobiography wrote, “On my fifth birthday, I was given a dog.  It was the most shattering thing that ever happened to me; so shattering, such unbelievable joy, that I was unable to say a word.  When I read that well-known cliché ‘so and so was struck dumb’ I realize that it can be a simple statement of fact.  I was struck dumb – I couldn’t even say thank you.  I could hardly look at my beautiful dog.  Instead I turned away from him.  I needed, urgently, to be alone and come to terms with this incredible happiness.”  Her mother was “always understanding” and let her daughter take time for her feelings.  No wonder, that even nowadays, when we read Agatha Christie’s stories we can’t stop being surprised by her amazing imagination, which was carefully guarded by her loving parents and surroundings in her happy childhood.

Childhood becomes happy for our children because of happy feelings they experience in it.  The deeper their happiness is the more thankful people they grow up to be.  Sincere gratitude comes from inside of the children’s souls; we can see it in their eyes!  Sincere gratitude, thankful heart, if not frightened by tactless words, will eventually result in the development of a human quality, which we call culture.  Each cultural man is polite and his politeness comes natural way, from heart.  But if we forget these basics and, instead, focus on single politeness, everyday and every hour watch our child for his manners, we risk to develop in the child artificial politeness and a cynical attitude to people.  “I smile to you, I say thank you, but, in fact, I don’t really care of you and your feelings,” that is what the child may learn, if we rush to impart in him good manners without being tactful ourselves.

Not politeness itself, but the habit of hearing, hearing from heart, must be our task in childrearing,” said Simon Soloveychik.  Habit of hearing from heart begins with habit to be listened by heart.  Parents listen to their child’s heart and hear it.  They hear about the child’s joy and desires, worries and strivings.  The child then learns to listen to his parents’ words and hear them.  Heart hearing is a soul’s ability.  If not developed it becomes tactlessness, the heart disability, and will eventually return to parents as a boomerang in their old ages.  Therefore we must make efforts in the development of a child’s heart and be careful with teaching politeness prematurely.  “Rules of politeness are to show up presumed feelings, even though there are no feelings in reality.  Often we have to say ‘thank you’ even when we don’t feel gratitude.  This is all necessary in society.  But by teaching a child prematurely to express feelings, which he doesn’t have, we may spoil his heart hearing.” (S. Soloveychik, Parenting For Everyone)

When I bring candies to my nephews, I am prepared to hear, “Tell your auntie thank you!”  This makes me feel embarrassed, as I see how hard parents teach their kids to be polite.  I wonder if parents realize that this is not pleasant to me to witness their kids’ embarrassment.  But parents don’t notice this.  I can’t tell them, “Don’t teach children!”  I can’t make notes to them; rebuke them for being tactless to their kids.  I am afraid to hurt them and just hope that I won’t hear that next time.  But how they will ever learn?

However, what to do?  How to teach children rules and good manners without making them notes in front of other people?  It is better to tell children in advance, “Your aunt will come soon.  She will tell us ‘Good morning’, and we, too, will not forget.  She may bring a present, and we will tell her thank you, right?”  But when the child forgets what we had just told him before the aunt came, we will repeat the lesson next time, without admonishing.  Often, the best we can do is to be thankful to our guest ourselves, without teaching our child.  That would teach the child better than anything.  Teaching without teaching is the best upbringing.

However, the most effective upbringing is when we find any reason to thank our children: for bringing us the newspaper, “Thank you, son, I am so tired and you helped me much!”  For good grades, “Thank you, daughter, you make me proud of you, you must have studied hard!”  For doing chores, even if not perfectly, “Thank you, son, I appreciate your efforts!”  That would be the most effective and mutually rewarding, because saying thank you increases human dignity.  Children’s dignity increases and they feel good about themselves.  That goodness eventually raises their desire to pay back with goodness and they learn to be grateful.

By A.Aubanova 2006

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Doug Anderson October 2, 2011 at 7:09 am

And yet, sometimes it works the other way. Sometimes the child is so used to getting that he/she doesn’t consider giving. Be it a simple thank you note or even a gift to others. Sometimes there gets to be a sense of entitlement that’s infuriating. How do you handle that if you’re the giver?


UpParent October 3, 2011 at 7:03 am

Dear Doug Anderson, thank you for your question. It took some time for me to think on the answer.

It is unpleasant if a child is impolite and thankless. As a giver I have two options: to give and demand thankfulness or to give and don’t demand anything back.

In the first case I would put myself at the mercy of the child and choose to feel good only if the child does what I demand. If he/she doesn’t thank me, it puts me in misery and desire to blame. This scenario is learned and played subconsciously, and it leads to unhappiness.

In the second case I don’t demand anything back. I choose to feel good just because of giving, no matter how the child response. I take control of my good feeling and don’t depend on anyone. I just do my duty. And sometimes, when I am patient enough my soul efforts may be rewarded by a surprise thanks, coming out of the heart of the child, not out of obligation.


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