Getting Children To Say Thanks For Gifts

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By Dan Coulter

I still wince at the memory of a childhood Christmas where I hurt my mother with a lack of gratitude.

I’d asked for a pair of walkie talkees from the Montgomery Ward catalog. When I opened my present, I found a different brand of walkie talkies from Sears. They were bigger and not as cool looking. I looked up at my mother and said, “Couldn’t you have gotten them from Wards?” The joy drained from my mother’s face, and I felt wretched as she explained I needed to be grateful for what I was given.

After recently being diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, I can forgive my childhood self a bit with the knowledge that blurting out what you’re thinking is a common Asperger trait. Luckily, that incident and others helped me learn to resist saying the first thing that popped into my mind.

If you have a child with Asperger Syndrome and want to avoid having a spontaneous reaction hijack the fun from your holiday gathering, here are some steps you can take in advance.

Talk with your child about what it means to give and give gifts. If your gift giving is tied to a holiday such as Christmas or Hanukkah, talk about the relationship of gifts to the holiday.

Next, explain how different reactions from him or her will make the gift giver feel. Understanding consequences beforehand may help your child temper his or her initial response.

If your child is very literal, and thinks it would be dishonest to thank someone for a present he doesn’t want, tell him he can thank the giver for the thought. Semantics can be important to someone with Asperger Syndrome, and this could be a compromise he can live with.

Gratitude for the thought might sound like this, “Thanks for the socks Grandma, that was very nice.”

Or, it could be as simple as opening a present and saying, “Thanks, Dad,” while thinking to himself he’s expressing gratitude for his father’s good intentions and not for the train he didn’t want.

In these situations, you can also use a strategy of saying thanks and moving on to another topic. Saying a simple “Thank You” and immediately talking about something else reduces the opportunity to let a critical comment about the gift slip out.

For many children, practicing “gratitude manners” can be helpful. You can make it a game. Gather a variety of objects, such as toys and socks and underwear; and several boxes. Put the objects into the boxes out of your child’s sight.

Then let your child open each “gift” and thank you for it. If he or she can find something positive to say about it, great. If not, it’s great practice for the “say thanks and move on” strategy. Praise your child for expressing convincing gratitude. Continue to emphasize how good this will make the gift givers feel.

Finally, make it easy for children to write thank you notes to givers who are not present when gifts are opened. You can give children a box of thank you notes and suggest wording so the letters don’t become a chore. Try and help them write and send the notes the within a day of the gift’s opening.

Handwriting can be a challenge for children with Asperger Syndrome. It was for me. If that’s the case for your child, consider letting him type his thank you note on a computer using a font that looks like handwriting and sign it. He could also use a computer to create a mailing label.

Or, you could create some “fill in the blanks” cards that read, “Dear__________, Thank you for the ___________. I really appreciate you thinking of me.” Then leave a space for a signature. You just have to decide what works best for you and your child.

Of course, you can also prepare gift givers with an understanding of your child’s possible negative reactions.

But having your child make others feel good about the presents they give may be the nicest gift you receive this year.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR -- Dan Coulter is the producer of the DVD “Manners for the Real World: Basic Social Skills.” You can find more articles on his website:

Copyright 2009 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

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