“Thank You” Feels Nice

by Kelly Bartlett on April 7, 2011

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I love swimming days.  With school and Taekwondo sandwiching the kids’ joint swimming lesson, and needing to fit lunch and showers in there, too, they are our busiest day of the week.  But also our favorite!  Swimming really “takes the edge off” for all of us, and we welcome the inevitable sense of calm we feel after a half-hour of hard work in the water (lessons for them, laps for me).

Part of this routine is navigating the locker room; trying to get myself and two young kids undressed, suited up, to class on time, then undressed once again, showered, washed, dried, dressed, combed, and packed up in a reasonable amount of time is a feat of parenting each week.  But we have established a pretty efficient routine, and can get it all done with minimal problems.

Part of that routine is, after showers, JJ (age 4.5) gathers everyone’s wet towels and puts them in the laundry basket (we don’t bring our own, but use ones provided by the fitness center).  Sometimes he grumbles about it, but for months, he’s always gotten the job done.

The other day, I thought I’d give JJ a break from his usual task of gathering everyone’s towels, and I said, “How about everyone put their own towels in the laundry today?”

JJ: Why?

Me: Well, every week I ask you to put everyone’s towels in the laundry, and I thank you for that.  I just thought we could do our own today and give you a break.

JJ: Oh, OK. [long pause as he starts gathering just his own towel] Actually, I like my job of doing the towels.  So I’ll still do it today. I’ll do everyone’s.

Me: Oh!  Yeah?

JJ: Yeah.  Because I like you thanking me.  Yeah…that feels nice.

Me: OK, well, thank you for doing the towels again today, too! I really appreciate your help in getting things done.

Here is an example of a child realizing on his own that helping out feels good and is the right thing to do.  I never praised him for doing “a good job” on the towels.  I never told him he was “a good boy” or “such a good helper” for doing it, or that anything about his work was “good,” nor did he ever get anything in exchange for doing the towels. Yet he’s deciding on his own that helping out with the towels is what he wants to do, and is worth continuing.  It’s worth it to him because he knows he is needed and important.  His older sister and I genuinely appreciate his effort, and that ultimately feels better than any form of praise.  He is aware of how capable he is, that his job is necessary, and that it feels personally satisfying to contribute in a meaningful way.  All because “thank you” is more accurate than “good job.”

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Kelly Bartlett (36 Posts)

Kelly Bartlett is the author of "Encouraging Words For Kids" and "Help! My Child is Addicted to Screens (Yikes! So Am I.)" She is an API leader and Certified Positive Discipline Educator in Portland Oregon.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer April 7, 2011 at 7:48 pm

I enjoyed this read. Thank you!

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Rachel April 7, 2011 at 10:10 pm

I so agree! I never use “good” (or “bad” or “naughty”) for my boys though I
will
use please and thank you, tell them I appreciate something they’ve done and
notice when they do something which makes them feel pleased/proud of
themselves. As a consequence it really grates on me when someone else
tells my kids “good swinging” (for sitting on a swing), or (my personal favourite), “good bottm sitting” for sitting down when asked (I kid you not). To me these sound forces and insincere (though well-meant) and I’m sure my kids must sense that too, when a simple please, thank you and I appreciate your help are much more sincere.

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Brooke April 12, 2011 at 8:39 am

I couldn’t agree more. I read/heard about using “thank you” instead of “good ____” before my daughter was verbal, and I think it has made all the difference. For one, she says “thank you” very consistently, and not only to her parents. I just really appreciate the thought of her growing up without us placing value on her actions, but acknowledging when she does something that we appreciate. The “good ____” she gets from others definitely grates on my nerves, but I’m trying to roll with it. She learned to pet the dog’s head and say “good girl” pretty early from my sister-in-law, who also would tell Sadie “good girl” for doing basic things. The result: Sadie pats her own head and says, “good girl.” To which I (and my husband) respond, “You’re always a good girl.” That feels awkward to say, but I feel like we’ve got to counter-condition her or something.

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