Friendship Circle Logo
Pure Friendship for Individuals with Special Needs

How to Help Children With Special Needs Show Gratitude for Gifts

This time of year, we ask a lot of our kids: to keep calm, respect space, modulate and control their responses to lights, music, and gift anticipation, to keep secrets, try different foods and to use a more formal behavior than usual. On top of all that, we ask them to be thankful for what they receive, since gratitude is a big part of the holiday celebration. No matter what special need a child has, when they say or sign thank you with a smile, we feel happy about giving. Children often have no filters, and need practice to say “thank you” when it is time for gift exchanges. Here are some tips on helping children with special needs show gratitude for gifts they have received.

Practice makes perfect

Wrap up some objects you know that your child would like, wouldn’t like, and some that are just silly, since they need to practice receiving gifts they do not expect or don’t want. Ask your child to:
  • Look the giver in the eyes and smile.
  • Look at the package before tearing it open to acknowledge special wrapping
  • Open the present, and then say “thank you” with a smile
Have them also practice giving presents:
  • Call the recipient’s name and wait for them to look
  • Gently pass the present while smiling
  • Say “you’re welcome” when thanked

Put feelings first

Write a comic strip conversation to express thoughts and feelings.  First draw a picture of a gift giver, like a grandmother shopping for a gift to give her granddaughter.  You don’t need to be a great artist. Use stick figures and facial expressions with thought and word balloons to show how grandma looks for the perfect gift and how hopeful she is that granddaughter will like it.  Next, show granddaughter opening the gift.  She may have thought balloons herself, but the next picture should be the granddaughter saying “thank you” with a smile. The last picture could be grandma smiling broadly and hugging her granddaughter. Emphasize that there are some things your child may think in their thought bubble, but should never say out loud.  These thoughts are impolite, and would hurt the feelings of the person who gave the gift. They include:
  • I don’t like this.
  • I didn’t ask for this.
  • I already have one.
  • I hate this.
  • I don’t want this.
  • This is for babies.
  • You got the wrong kind/color/size.
  • Where is the good stuff?
  • Why did you give this to me?
  • I would rather have what she/he has!
  • I hope you have the receipt.
If you build these comic strip conversations on a white board or a tablet, you could change the gift from something delightful, to something silly, to something you know that your child would not like.

It’s the thought that counts

When drawing a comic book conversation, emphasize that the third picture is always the same, saying “thank you.”  If the gift giver is not present when the gift is opened, then the third picture is the child writing a thank you card. Make sure that the final picture is a picture of the giver feeling happy. You might even talk about the expression “It is better to give than to receive” and that happiness comes from giving a gift that makes others happy.  When we are with others, we want them to appreciate us, and to like us.  We want them to know that their time, efforts, thoughts, and gifts are a kind action.  No one forces others to give us gifts.  They give us gifts to bring us happiness.  When you are happy, they are happy. How can we help children understand the idea of gratitude?   It is appreciating what you have, and who you are with every day, and showing it.  As parents we try to demonstrate to our children how appreciative we are for all that we have, and all that we do together. In the process, we teach them to be thankful, too.

WRITTEN ON December 23, 2013 BY:


Diane Nancarrow is a speech-language pathologist and director of adolescent programs at the Kafuman Children's Center for Speech, Language, Sensory-Motor & Social Connections, Inc. in West Bloomfield, MI. Her experience includes auditory processing disorders, childhood apraxia of speech, developmental speech and language disorders, LINKS to Language, Picture Exchange Communication Systems, extensive experience in neurological communication disorders, adolescent language disorders, language to literacy, Fast ForWord® Family of Language Training Programs, The Kaufman Speech to Language Protocol, use of technology to facilitate learning, and application of ABA/ therapy techniques. She also facilitates the social language skills groups at the KCC.