Teaching Children to Say Thank You: 7 Ways to Encourage Gratitude & Build a Stronger Relationship

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Inside: Teaching Children to Say Thank You is so important, and it can be really stressful if you let it be. Here are 7 easy ways to encourage manners without feeling like it’s a chore.

One of the most important teaching tools in your parenting toolbox is teaching your children to say thank you. This simple act is one that will help build a strong relationship with your child and also encourage gratitude and most importantly help build the cornerstones of open lines of communication.

It’s a wonderful time to begin teaching your little one manners, such as saying please and thank you, at any age.

Not only will it help them express gratitude, but teaching your 4 year old to politely ask for a snack (as opposed to demanding one) is important for your mental health as well. There are 7 tried and true methods to help your preschooler use please and thank you on a daily basis. 

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Start Teaching Manners Young

There is no day like today, so if you have a preschooler right now, start now. If you’re pregnant, start when they’re a newborn.

Now, this doesn’t mean demanding your newborn says please before feeding them, that’s ridiculous. But showing them how to say these words and when by saying them yourself is a great way to prime their little minds.

Baby sign language is amazing! It’s like giving them words before they’re able to speak, and it’s truly incredible. I highly recommend teaching your child words like milk, please, and thank you, to begin.

Here is a link to help you get started with baby sign language.

Now if you have an older child AND a baby, have them help you teach the baby sign language. Learning through teaching is a great way to ensure they learn quickly. Plus, teaching their baby sibling is a beautiful bonding opportunity.

You’ll Need to Remind them To Say Please and Thank You

It’s easy to forget that we have known these words and what they mean for our entire lives. Introducing new words and vocabulary to our preschooler will take a lot of reminding and gentle nudging.

I have fallen into impatience a lot with my children and manners, so when I feel frustrated or angry with them, I remind myself to take a deep breath and give them the tools they need to succeed. Remember how hard it can be to learn a new habit!

A few simple tricks for reminding little ones to use their manners:

“You want me to pick up your toy you dropped? What is the magic word?”
“Oops, I think you forgot to say something”
“I can’t hear you, were you trying to say please, Mommy?”
“A new car! That’s so awesome! What should we say to Grandma?”
“Whoa, it sounds like you want something, how can we ask Mommy?”

It can be exhausting, but remember at the end of this journey we are going to have children with incredible manners!

Teaching Children to Say Thank You by Modeling the Behavior

Children are sponges, they’ll soak up everything around them, including your good manners, if you showcase them.

Look for opportunities to ask your child for help, and thank them afterwards.

Ask everyone in the home to model please and thank you as much as possible, when they’re around or not around. Everyone needs some good manners, right?

When you sit down at the dinner table, thank the cook for an awesome meal, and tell them how delicious it looks.

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Preschoolers Thrive on Positive Reinforcement

This can be as simple as a high five when they say please or thank you.

Each night before bed our family talks about our favorite parts about the day, and I try to point out when I notice my kids are being very polite that day.

Another way to show that you notice your preschooler is making great progress is to mention it to another adult when your child is in another room. I like to call this “talking behind their back” but it’s always a good thing.

“Did you notice how polite Jackson is being today? He has been saying please and thank you ALL DAY, he’s like a tiny gentleman!”

Make sure it’s where they can hear you, but don’t make it too obvious . . . Don’t make eye contact and then talk about them, for example.

What is Your Preschooler Consuming?

Here’s the thing, with screen time, you have to see what they’re watching. Is it age appropriate? Is it just plain rude? Are they learning anything?

For preschoolers, it’s so easy to find shows that are age appropriate and will help with enforcing the manners you’re working on. Our favorite shows for manners and good behavior are Daniel Tiger’s Neighboorhood (on PBS and if you have Amazon Prime, it’s there too!) and Bluey (Disney).

Books are another meaningful way to help you and your child be mindful. I’ve found that sitting down and reading together is a great way to encourage that relationship building that we both really need. Here is a cute book my kids love:

Practice Saying Thank You Through Play

There is no better way to teach your children than through play. It’s as simple as that, the experts all agree that preschool aged children learn the best while playing, so let’s dial into that and use it to learn more manners, and practice saying thank you!

Here are a few simple games you can play:

Flower Store
Go Fish
Grocery Store
Twister
Kid’s Monopoly

Some of those don’t really sound like games that can be used to teach please and thank you, I know. But think about all the opportunities.

With the flower or grocery store, you can set up a small area on a table or even a cardboard box that can be their “store” with a variety of food or flowers they can find in their toys, or create with paper. Ask your preschooler for different items that are for sale, and repeat those magic please and thank you words over and over, and make sure they are too!

For Go Fish, Twister, it’s just like the classic game but instead of saying “do you have number 2” or “right hand on red”, say “can you please check your cards for a 2?” or “please put your right hand on a red circle”.

With Monopoly it’s just common courtesy. “You landed on my hotel, can you please give me $3? Thank you, have a great day!”

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Explain Why We Say Please and Thank You

Preschool is such a fun time with children, you can see it in their faces as they begin to process and understand things we are telling them.

Some preschoolers are a little too young or not ready yet to sit down and talk about this with, for those children, simply working on the habit is enough.

If you have tried over and over to help them use please and thank you and it’s just not working, it might be time to sit down and explain the why to your child.

Why Do We Teach Our Children Please and Thank You?

Please and thank you are simple ways to show respect and appreciation to others.

Ask your child when they can remember feeling really special. Maybe when they have a special treat in their lunch, or when Grandpa gives them a little candy they keep in their pocket, or when we sat down together and played a game.

Saying thank you is a way to tell someone that you feel special, or that you loved that they did something for you.

Action Steps

Here are a few of the main takeaways from teaching your child to say thank you, and key things to remember.

Have patience, it takes time
Try to add manners into all the games and activities you play with your preschooler
Keep trying. Eventually they’ll say it without any help
Try giving them a minute before correcting
Model the behavior you want to see

Remember, preschoolers are growing every day. Their brains are getting faster, and so are the connections they’re making. So be patient and remember it’s okay to keep giving them the same tools you’ve given them one hundred times before.

Once you make please and thank you a priority, teaching children to say thank you will get easier. There are many opportunities to showcase manners to your child. The more you look for them, the easier it will be to find them.

Printable Manners Tracker

Click here to grab your manners reward tracker printable now!

Teaching Children to Say Thank You

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