5 Tips to Teach Kids the Subtle Art of Graciousness

by ParentCo. June 27, 2024

girl holding her hands together who is expressing love

I dreaded my engagement party, not for the fact that it would be at my future husband’s house filled with unfamiliar people, and certainly not for the gifts. It was the meet-and-greet ceremony that sent me mentally skittering.

How many expressions do you need to convey gratitude or pleasure or acceptance in these types of conversations? When the well-meaning aunt pulled me aside to say I was the best thing that ever happened to my husband-to-be, what could I say? Denial might suggest I could actually be his downfall, and redirection is impossible with family. They are dogged in their pursuit of a topic. Diversions to my new job or the tasty cucumber sandwiches would not work.

Ten years and three kids later, I’ve gotten better at the art of accepting a compliment. But I’m still working on it, because I want my children to be both good compliment givers and receivers. It’s not as easy as it sounds. To teach acceptance of kind words is to teach self-confidence without boastfulness. Your reception of such acknowledgments reflects your core beliefs about yourself. 

Say “thank you”

It may seem silly, but this might be the most difficult part of the whole thing. To say thank you without deflecting to another topic or someone else’s achievements is a hard habit to break. If your kids are really little, they might respond to a compliment with “okay” or “I know” (I hear that one a lot in my house). Remembering to say thank you, and mean it, is the first step. It causes the receiver to pause and acknowledge the words and the sentiment behind them. “Thank you” is the polite bow at the end of the conversation.

Honor their opinion

Teach your kids to think about the other person in the conversation and resist the urge to gloss over or negate whatever compliment has just been given. Explain that responding to a compliment from Grandma about their singing with, “Yeah, but Jane sang better than I did” or “I forgot the words in the last verse” is to reject her opinion. The same goes for saying, “I know.” This makes grandma feel her words were just fluff, a feather lost in a cap full of feathers. To honor their opinion goes hand-in-hand with saying thank you. It shows respect for the speaker.

Watch your body language

Perhaps the biggest thing I see my kids struggle with when complimented is holding eye contact. It’s as though that moment of attention makes them want to either perform a circus act to get more applause or duck and run for cover. I see this in myself, too. If left to my own devices, I’d shove my hands in my pockets and kick at the ground until the spotlight swiveled another direction. I have to force my body language not to scream “Aww shucks.” Accompanying a “thank you” with simple eye contact lets the other person see that you heard and accepted their words.

Take it to heart

This is hard to teach. It’s essentially the art of introspection. When someone compliments your child on their handprint-turned-turkey for Thanksgiving or their glittery Easter egg, it’s important that they remember that good feeling. To accept and examine the talents that others see in you is a talent in itself. If someone hazards to compliment me on my mothering (it has happened now and again), I make the effort to reflect on it later and let myself see what they saw in me. In this way, compliments can lead to a solid sense of self and skills. It’s a way to discover talents that you might not notice or ascribe value to otherwise.

Read “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?”

Books offer reinforcement to real life. They give another view, another scenario, a new metaphor for the experience we want to share. This 32-page picture book by Carol McCloud brings kindness and compliments into focus with illustrations of children filling other’s buckets with kind words and actions. I love the concept that we are participants in one another’s happiness, that there are causes and effects to our actions.

We are a village designed to care for each other. Part of that means boosting each other, adding to and not taking away from everybody else’s quality of life. If your kids (or you) need a little practice in accepting a compliment, try some of these tips. Practice with each other in small ways: Take note of your spouse’s well-done diaper change or an epic Lego castle or the longest headstand known to man. It will help you remember that graciousness is an art, both given and received. If nothing else, it will make you be nicer to each other.



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