I think this is a wonderful time of year to teach our children about gratitude. This can be a difficult concept for young children to grasp, as they are so self-centered at this young age, so we start with the basics of saying “Thank you.” A “thank you” after receiving a snack that was asked for can lead into a “Thank you for mending my shirt” or “Thank you for helping me with my homework.” We encourage our kids to express why they are thankful. It adds meaning to their thanks.
It is also important to be a role model ourselves. We need to show our own gratitude for what we have and for others. Our children need to hear us say, “Thank you,” to others and witness us tell people we appreciate what they do for us. There is a great article in the Huffington Post about teaching our children gratitude and a quote that is so well put. It said, “Children will absorb and model their parents gratefulness or lack thereof. An entitled parent will likely raise an entitled child.” I completely believe this. As a teacher, I frequently work with kids who think they are owed anything they want and aren’t taught to earn what they have. This isn’t just innate. This is learned behavior.
Try allowing your children to help you when giving back to others. Whether you volunteer your time or clean out the closets to give to the needy, our kids learn from our actions. Have them contribute a toy or two to the next trip to your local donation drop-off location. I would like to find an opportunity in the future for us as a family to contribute. Maybe we’ll adopt a family and provide a holiday meal or choose a child’s wish off of the mall’s giving tree. Including Parker and Brandon in these activities will teach them to feel appreciative to have a warm home, clean clothes, and food to fill their tummies.
Here are some more suggestions from Parents magazine on how to teach our children gratitude. “Children model their parents in every way, so make sure you use “please” and “thank you” when you talk to them. (“Thanks for that hug — it made me feel great!”) Insist on their using the words, too. After all, “good manners and gratitude overlap,” says New York City etiquette consultant Melissa Leonard, a mother of two young daughters.
- Work gratitude into your daily conversation. Two old-fashioned, tried-and-true ideas: Make saying what good things happened today part of the dinnertime conversation or make bedtime prayers part of your nightly routine.
- Have kids help. It happens to all of us: You give your child a chore, but it’s too agonizing watching him a) take forever to clear the table or b) make a huge mess mixing the pancake batter. The temptation is always to step in and do it yourself. But the more you do for them, the less they appreciate your efforts. (Don’t you feel more empathy for people who work outside on cold days when you’ve just been out shoveling snow yourself?) By participating in simple household chores like feeding the dog or stacking dirty dishes on the counter, kids realize that all these things take effort.
- Find a goodwill project. Figure out some way he can actively participate in helping someone else, even if it’s as simple as making cupcakes for a sick neighbor.
- Encourage generosity. “We frequently donate toys and clothes to less fortunate kids,” says Hulya Migliorino, of Bloomingdale, New Jersey. “When my daughters see me giving to others, it inspires them to go through their own closets and give something special to those in need, as well.”
- Insist on thank-you notes. Paula Goodnight, of Maineville, Ohio, always makes her girls (Rachel, 10, Amelia, 6, and Isabella, 3) write thank-yous for gifts. “When they were toddlers, the cards were just scribbles with my own thank-you attached,” she says. “As they grew, they became drawings, then longer letters.” Younger children can even dictate the letter while you write, says Lewis. “Just the act of saying out loud why he loved the gift will make him feel more grateful,” she says.
- Practice saying no. Of course kids ask for toys, video games, and candy — sometimes on an hourly basis. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to feel grateful when your every whim is granted. Saying no a lot makes saying yes that much sweeter.
- Be patient. You can’t expect gratitude to develop overnight — it requires weeks, months, even years of reinforcement. But trust me, you will be rewarded.”
Patience and leading by example really do pay off. Parker now thanks my husband and I for various things we do. Out of the blue, he will say, “Thank you for sewing up the holes in my shirt.” or “Thank you for cooking my favorite dinner.” or “Thank you for showing me how to play Go Fish.” By reinforcing his gratitude with showing how happy these expressions make us, I’d expect him to continue to grow into a kind, empathetic young man and adult.
I have so much to be thankful for this year. I have two happy and healthy boys, an incredibly supportive husband, and wonderful friends and family. I hope you make the time to express your thanks and experience the joy in watching your own children do the same. Happy Thanksgiving!