How to improve your relationship with your child – a simple phrase to use…

Full disclosure I am a 24/7 single parent with no support (unless paid for) and a card carrying attachment / gentle parent. The personal choices I have made, alongside the professional knowledge I have, means that the weight of ‘getting it right’ sometimes weighs really heavily on me.

I do not get it right all the time.

I do try and be really conscious about what I am doing and thinking about the why I am doing it though; and in doing that there is one super simple phrase I have made a very conscious decision to use when chatting to my son at home. It’s likely to be a phrase you will agree with me that should be used at home, but maybe not in the same way.

Have you guessed the phrase yet?

It’s… Thank You.

But Rach, of course we use thank you at home what are you on about? Well, here are some of the ways I use Thank You, and my why for doing it.


Children learn far far more from what they experience around them and to them, than what they are told to do. So when mini me was a toddler, I used to say thank you to him whenever he passed me anything or when he helped pop toys away.

I never went down the route of making him say ‘ta’ before I handed him the food he was asking for, or the toy I had picked up for him. It had no logic to it in my mind, apart from it being transactional. It wasn’t what I wanted him to learn. My objective was for him to see and experience situations where people said thank you in context and where it could be applied throughout his life.

Not only did he experience it, he also saw me say it to other strangers we interacted with in restaurants and coffee shops. He heard me speak to people on the phone and say it. He experienced me doing it on his behalf and when advocating for him.

Setting Expectations & Reactions

The thank you is expanded to ‘Thank you for telling me’ too.

I use this phrase whenever he tells me about a situation that has gone wrong or where he is worried about what to do. Do I something internally say things like ‘ah for fucks sake’? Of course I do, I’m human and it’s a perfectly reasonable thought sometimes. How I respond externally is always, well nearly always, with a ‘thank you for telling me’.

This has been a strategy that I have seen pay dividends already in the last 7 years, and one I am really hopeful will help us navigate the teens years and beyond. I never want him to fear my reaction, disappointment or response. I always want him to come to me.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been some doozy’s over the years that have been harder to say thank you to, but he does tell me when he’s messed up and when he’s worried about an incident at school or with friends. This allows us to have an open dialogue about what we / he can do repair the relationships or the remedy the mistake. This problem solving is a life skill. It will help him navigate relationships in the future, it will show him that being open and honest is a good thing.

Most importantly for me, it shows I’m not his adversary. I am his ally and he always needs to feel that.

He deserves it...

Our expectations of our children are often more stringent that of other adults and ourselves. Reflect for a moment and consider how often you do say thank you to your partner, friends, child for simple acts they do for you. We’re often more aware of the need to say thank you to strangers. Manners, and the art of displaying them is a very British trait. Think about why parents do the ‘ta’ thing with their child – it’s often so the child appears to have good manners. Don’t misunderstand me here, manners are very important to me. I am the person who lets someone out of a junction and then acknowledges their thank you with a thank you wave of my own!

I say Thank You to my mini me for all manner of things though. When he does something unexpected, when he gives me a hug, when he does something I expect or have asked him to do; and, I even thank him for being him!

My voice and what I say to him becomes his internal dialogue and that deserves to be positive. Going back to my feeling overwhelmed with the weight of responsibility of getting it right some days, this is the one that gets me! One of the ways I navigate this is by saying thank you to him. I comment on lovely days we’ve had and thank him for making it that way. I also often say thank you for being you; after all, who wouldn’t want to hear that from someone they love the most? He even randomly says it to me, and that is pretty epic too!

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