One of the most important habits you can nurture in your children
Parenthood, when it arrives for a new family, is a daunting and overwhelming experience. We all want to be “good” parents right? But what do you focus on? Obedience? Truthfulness? Academic achievement?
I have had 5 wonderful children. Are they always perfect paragons? Of course not! None of us are. But I found out one simple thing that, by training them, from childhood to do from the moment they started to speak, helped them to be thoughtful and kind, generous and grateful.
We taught them to say “Thank you”.
When you first start as a parent you often instinctively revert back to what you recall your own parents doing. Sadly, sometimes this can be a terrible thing to copy and the news is littered with the damage done to next generations from people trapped by the experiences they had as children.
Fortunately for me, I had a wonderful family, and I remember my grandmother, my mother and my father encouraging me and my younger siblings to do one simple thing when we started to talk.
No matter what they offered to the babies they would always say encouragingly before handing over items we wanted…
We did not know what “Ta” meant, but we said it because it meant we would get what we wanted.
As we got more adept at language “Ta” became “Thank you” and we knew that it was something you had to say anytime a person did something for us.
This was not beaten into us, we were not denied anything reasonable if we forgot to say “Ta”. It was always reinforced with a loving and encouraging tone and we were praised when we said it. Naturally the getting of the desired item was a bonus too.
Basically we learned to love saying “Thank you.”
“Great. You trained your kids to be socially adept and slavishly polite to get what they want.” You might think.
“Sure. We all want people to think our children have lovely manners. We all want our kids to get what they want right?” I could reply and “Here endeth the lesson.”
But that is the very last reason you should, from the earliest age, train your children to say “Ta”
What profound and lasting effect does making “thankyou” an automatic reaction have on your children that is of much, much more profound worth than being thought polite or socially adept?
I will give you the reasons why “ta” is one of the best things you can ever teach your child.
- You are training their brain to acknowledge other people and the things they do for them.
When a child says “Thank You” it makes them automatically pause after they receive something and recognize the person who granted them the favor. Without this automatic mechanism, you have a child that can easily grow up unable to recognize that other people deserve consideration. If you just give a child all they want without a mechanism like “thank you” in place, they can easily become young adults who are used to having their own way, are often very angry if they do not get what they want, and can grow into very ruthless adults. Remembering to say “thank you” helps your child to be appreciative of those around them. It makes them aware that other are making a positive contribution to their lives and it teaches them to appreciate how many people, on a daily basis, contribute something positive to their existence. The fact that is an automatic and subconscious action when learnt from childhood gives them a “shortcut” to appreciative behavior that is invaluable.
- It trains them to filter their world in a more positive way.
From birth, your child is going to be flooded with information. We all are. Our brain cannot process all of this and so uses filters to identify what seems most important at that moment. The “Thank you” habit gives them a filter that automatically focuses on positive actions in their lives. It helps them to see the world in light of the positive contributions that make up their existence and focuses their minds on people who are positive role models. If they see you thanking the person at the checkout on the way out of the shops, or the person that holds open the door for you, or the person who delivers the package you have been waiting for, then they quickly learn to see how each little interaction has importance and gives them a means to discern what, out of the flood of facts, people, and stimulation has the greatest importance. Without it, all interactions, with people and objects appear to have equal value (or lack of value).
I can look up a fact using Google without typing “thank you” after Google delivers. It is a tool I use to find information. I can ask my Father to help me move house. If I cannot see that there is a difference between what he has given up his time and love in doing, compared to what I just found on the internet, then there is a serious problem. The habit of thanking prevents this. The “Me” generation is a perfect example of people who have grown up in a supersaturated information environment without the filters needed to recognize that there is a profound difference between human interaction and any other stimulus in their environment. It not only leads to other people seeing them as selfish, or rude, but, far more disturbingly, it stunts emotional development and prevents them knowing the joy that comes from giving and receiving acts of kindness. They may grow up believing they have “got what they want and need” but fail to appreciate that the best aspects of life relate to what they often miss completely, the joy that comes of having human interaction without it being part of their direct contribution to perceived “wants” or “needs”. The anger and discontent many of the recent generations feels is evidence of the inability to recognize what is of lasting value and what is of limited worth. If a Nike shoe is worth more than the meal they have been given, or the care of a interested teacher, or the person who just helped them find their lost phone then of course they will feel discontented. They have no way of seeing the difference between the item and the interactions. They are all just parts of the day. If I have been trained to automatically pause and say “thank you” I am instantly putting the shoes in their place, way beneath all of the other far more enriching events in my life.
- It makes them far less likely to commit bad acts
If you have, ever since you remember, been accustomed to say “Thank you” it does something very profound to your brain. It establishes the concept of respect and consideration of others as an integral part of our decision making processes. Each time we say “thank you” we are effectively reminding and training our brain to appreciate that those around us have worth, deserve respect, and that our actions will affect others. A child who does not understand this is far more likely to steal, tell lies, manipulate people and be more likely to be violent or abusive. If I have said thank you to everyone I receive a simple service from or a much deeper personal kindness, the neural pathways in my brain that relate to linking my sense of self with a sense of community are strengthened. If I see myself as part of a community I value, filled with people I am grateful for, then I am far less likely to want to engage in activities that would hurt the community or result in the loss of my place in it. It is harder for me to hurt those around me by being dishonest, or worse, if I feel instinctively that their place in my lives means something. “Thank you” links you to people every day. The child that thanks the teacher at the end of the lesson or thanks you for the dinner you just cooked, or the laundry you just folded for them, is far less likely to want to do anything that may hurt you. This “thank you” even when sometimes it does not sound overly enthusiastic, shows you that they are connected with you. People who feel disconnected from society find committing crimes or being dishonest much easier. After all, why wouldn’t they consider all options of behavior if they feel that others around them have no relevance in their lives?
- It improves their likelihood of succeeding in the world.
I know I have said that “getting what you want” by thanking others is the least most important thing. (Although there is nothing more charming that the little shy smile and the “thank you Granny” of the young child as they reach for the biscuit barrel)
My point here is that being thankful makes your child far more appreciative of opportunities when they arise. The first job they have is likely to be pretty damn boring. It won’t pay great money. It is likely they are going to have to deal with rude customers, strict bosses and pure, hard, labour. But it is an opportunity. If I can be thankful to the person who teaches me a new skill (even if it just the best way to slice ham) I am more likely to learn, I am more likely to stick with the job, I am more likely to be thankful for the chance to get a start, have something to add to my resume, and perhaps have a referee who will speak positively for me when I want to move onto the next step of my career journey.
Ask most bosses today about the type of people they want working for them. They want people who are enthusiastic to learn, grateful for the opportunity to show what they can do, and see requests to do different things as something to be excited about. The same bosses will also tell you of their despair of the young “20 somethings” brought up on a diet of “stand up for your rights” and “expect recognition for your wonderful and unique talents”. These employees very rapidly earn the general dislike of their colleagues and leave when they are asked to do things that they believe is “not their job” or irrelevant to their own career goals. They are very ready to make their point but they ultimately lose the entire game in trying to score these petty points. A child trained to be thankful is far more likely to appreciate opportunities, respond positively to offers of working in new skill areas, embrace training and learn from their peers. If those around them feel valued they are much more likely consider the thankful colleague to the one who spends the day complaining about their job, or telling others what treatment they deserve and the lack of appreciation from management for the talents they possess.
- It helps children and adults cope with difficult times.
No matter how bright things may seem, everyone encounters sadness, (often of the most devastating kind) at some point in their lives. If I am so overwhelmed by grief that I cannot function at that moment then “Thank you” as a habit keeps me at least connected. I can still recognize that others may be trying to help. I can pause for just that second and see that people might be looking out for me. I can still show others I appreciate their attempts to help. Slowly, as I rebuild my life I can be more genuinely appreciative of the people around me who continue to mean something and the automatic “thank you” becomes more whole hearted again because those people stuck by you because you kept trying, you showed them you appreciated their attempts to help. It is so often the accumulated little acts of kindness that happen when you are in the depths of despair that gradually help you get back on your feet. If you haven’t got the habit of pausing to say thanks, you will miss these little things that can actually be the saving graces in your darkest moments.
So, in conclusion…
Saying “Ta” is something of profound and lasting value. If you start training your child right from the very beginning, you will find they learn it with very little difficulty and the positive potential of this one habit is beyond price if it sticks with them for life.
As they grow, you model appropriate thankful behavior and help your child recognize when to show thanks. Teaching your child to be thankful is not the same as teaching your child to be obsequious or cringing. You can easily model to them genuine thankfulness that is not fake or self-serving.
One of my children had a part time job that turned out to be exploitative. I did not expect my daughter to express thanks to her manager simply because they told her what to do, or disguised exploitative work practices in the guise of “chances for improvement”. She did end up finding a new job, but left with an excellent reputation and a reference from a good line manager who saw she did her job while she was there professionally and responsibly. She could recognize what to be thankful for and could be thankful that her new job was far more appropriate and fair.
Thankfulness is not weakness. It is an immensely strengthening mental tool.
We all want our children to be happy. This one easy habit can help them achieve this like no amount of money, goods or thrill can. It binds them to other people, it helps them filter their world in a very positive and productive way and helps them find opportunities and develop rich and fulfilled lives.
I have been a high school teacher for 25 years and I can assure you that the child who knows how to say thanks is usually the happy and successful adult who comes back in later years to say hi or gives back to the community in one way or another.
I am not naïve. I know that saying “thanks” to everyone does not guaranteed success, but if my child is someone who can consider others, become a respected member of the community, recognize and return kindness and embrace opportunities for success whilst remembering with respect the people who helped them achieve that success then I think that simply holding out a piece of apple or a bright toy to a little baby and waiting for them to say “ta” is one of the most amazingly simple and best new parenting tips anyone can ever have.
(By the way….they still might have just the occasional moment when they throw an embarrassing tantrum in the middle of the shops, no matter how good they are at saying “Ta”. Just look for the sympathetic soul amongst the “tut-tutting” throng who gives you that “I know what you are going through” look and say a little “Ta” yourself.)
And thanks so much for reading!