When you tell your child to say, "Thank you" what is your motive? If he says, "Thank you" after being asked, does it change his level of gratitude or appreciation? Is he just giving lip service or trying to avoid being nagged? We want our kids to appreciate what is done for them, to express gratitude genuinely. How can my children grow to be gracious people?
Every day, I see my boys interact with the world, and it is clear how much I shape that response. They use their tools on the second hand rocking chair they have seen me fix numerous times. They fold and stack dish clothes, following my motions as well as they can figure out. My toddler has even learned to tell the dog to 'get out away', just as I do when I'm frustrated by my crowded space. They are watching all the time, so what do I want to be teaching them?
I can expect them to read my mind, and quietly seethe when they don't; they learn about unspoken expectations with acute consequences. I can respond harshly to their comments and criticism so they learn to bend the truth around what I want to hear. I can provide unrelenting praise or criticism so they forget how to make their own judgements and can't distinguish between genuine appreciation and rote response.
Alternatively, I can ask them how they like the dinner I have prepared. I can tell them that I appreciate hearing that they enjoy something, that I love cooking yummy food. I can also respond to criticism in a constructive manner, and discuss how flavors and textures can be changed to improve food we don't enjoy. I can apologize for harsh words once I realize what I've said. I can thank their Daddy for making breakfast, as he does so nearly every day, and thank him for doing the dishes, which is usually my chore. I can graciously accept words of praise, without dismissing or deflecting compliments. I can even apologize to the dog for yelling at her when she gets underfoot- after all, there should never be harsh consequences for wanting to be with your family.
My boys can only learn honesty if their answers and reactions are respected, positive, negative, or just different. They will learn to express gratitude if they regularly see genuine expressions and are not forced or even gently prodded, "What do you say?" They will only learn the importance of showing appreciation when we tell them the truth: "It makes me happy to hear that."