Modeling Behavior vs. Forcing It

You know how we're always making our kids say "thank you"? because that's how we teach them to be polite?

Last week I spent like 5min trying to get Ethan (3) to say thank you to his teacher for giving him a special snack (goldfish) since he didn't like the one they had (fruit🤦‍♀️). Yet clearly after 5min, even if I could have gotten him to say thank you (which I couldn't), I know it wouldn't actually have meant anything to him anyway... just another one of those "mom wanted me to do something so I did it to get her off my back" moments.

Then this weekend, David (6) and I were at a birthday party and I saw parents doing this same thing over and over... it's time to leave, so take your kid over to the hosts (parents of the kid) and make them say thank you. And/or take your kid over to the birthday kid and make them say thank you. And of course I was right there with them. (only my 6yo is more obliging than my 3yo, so he just did it instead of it turning into a battle! 🤪.)

I didn't think much of either instance, only that I knew neither one felt quite right, but chalked it up to one of those things we parents just do.

And then today I came across this podcast, and seriously, it's like pure gold.

In it, they talk about how, as parents, our job is to be the one modeling stuff to our kids, and how kids really do learn by seeing us in action. And questioned what we were actually teaching our kids by forcing them to say thank you.. are we teaching them "an attitude of gratitude" or just forcing them to say what's appropriate in social situations (i.e. not actually feeling anything when they say it).

So I was rethinking my own 2 instances above, and how I could have done things differently. 
For Ethan with the snack, I could have verbalized to the teacher "I know Ethan was really sad about only having the fruit snack as an option, so thank you for going out of your way to give him a snack that he really likes. I'm really grateful he has a snack now that will make his belly happy." (letting Ethan hear it the whole time, but not putting him on the spot to actually say or do anything, other than maybe just have him notice how he was feeling about the new snack).

And for the birthday party, I could have walked up to the parents and said "Thank you so much for inviting us - the magician was so cool and I could see David and all the kids having such a great time - what an awesome way to spend our afternoon, Thank you! And I hope (child) has an awesome birthday!" and even walked over to the birthday girl to wish her a happy birthday/ given David the opportunity to say thank you and share his feelings too, or not.

Anyway, it feels good now to have permission to NOT have to force my kids to say thank you, and to not sit there having the thought "my kid is not being polite! I can't have his teachers/ friends' parents think he's not a polite kid!".

Sharing thanks from a genuine place inside of me for the kindness of the other person, and leaving my kids to do the same, or not, just feels so much more loving and freeing, than my old (auto-pilot & even fear-based) alternative.

What do you think? Do you agree that we don't have to force kids to say thank you, and they'll learn through modeling?? How else do you have your kids feel this attitude of gratitude (esp at the holidays)?