A classic scenario: Your child desperately wants a toy, begging for it for several weeks. You finally give in and get it for her, thinking she’ll shower you with “thank you’s” and gratitude, but instead she seems thrilled for about a week (or less) and then the toy ends up in the closet, and your child starts begging for another one. It seems the more you give, the more they want without much gratitude.
We need to recognize that children don’t naturally understand the concept of gratitude. It is a concept that they can learn, but it is important to recognize that it is a process.
Gratitude comes from the heart. Parents can teach the words, “thank you,” and it’s a nice expression. But being grateful goes beyond the memorized words of acknowledgement to an inner feeling of joy.
Following are steps that parents can take to foster gratitude in their children.
1. Work gratitude into your everyday conversation and actions.
o Model gratitude for your children by expressing appreciation for small kindnesses that others have shown you.
o Children are aware when parents say thank you with a smile to a server at a restaurant or a clerk at a grocery check out. They listen to the words “have a great day” when parents express this kindness to others.
o When children hear parents express appreciation for the opportunity to visit family and friends, they begin to recognize that having loving family and friends is a privilege that they can be thankful for.
- Other gratitude statements:
- “We’re so lucky to have a good dog like Max, aren’t we?”
- “I’m so grateful for that policeman who works hard to keep us safe.”
- Other gratitude statements:
o Say “Thank you” regularly.
- “Thanks for that hug. It made me feel good.”
- “I’m so happy when you listen. Thank you for doing the right thing.”
o Small gestures of appreciation help children understand that their parents find joy in expressing gratitude every day.
2. Teach children to be aware of others’ feelings.
o Raise awareness in young children by asking them how they think others feel when they show generosity.
o When children are generous in sharing a toy, offering you some of their favorite food, or giving a gift, parents can raise their awareness of how good the receiver feels.
o For example, you may say, “look at your sister’s happy face when you shared your toy.” You may express, “I enjoyed that cracker you gave me. I was really hungry.” Sentiments like this help your child recognize the good feelings that come from sharing. They learn that this good feeling is the underlying reason to be grateful.
3. Give gifts to others.
o Provide opportunities for your child to share in giving gifts from the heart to a friend or neighbor who might need help.
o For example, your child might help make dinner and deliver it to a neighbor who isn’t feeling well. This experience can help children understand how grateful others feel when we give them something.
o Help your child shop for a gift for a sibling or other family member, or help your child make a personal gift, such as a picture they create or a beaded necklace they put together. Thinking about others while creating a gift may enhance their feeling of gratitude.
o During the Holidays, downplay the presents and focus more on celebrating – making cookies together, attending church, decorating the tree, lighting the menorah, visiting relatives.
4. Count Your Blessings
o Express gratitude as part of daily conversation in your home.
o Moving around the dinner table to express gratitude is a nice habit to recognize what each family member is grateful for today.
o You can emphasize how much you appreciated the big hug you got as your child woke up this morning.
o One of your children may express how fun the new game on the playground was.
o You might simply look outside and express gratitude for the colorful trees, the beautiful sunset, or how much you appreciated how well Maggy listened and help set the table.
5. Help children express gratitude for gifts they receive.
o As children reflect on their gifts and those who gave them, they dedicate time for appreciation of their gifts.
o When children are too young to write a note, they may simply dictate what they love about a gift, and you can write their message.
o As children become old enough to write their own notes, they can dedicate the time to express appreciation.
6. Have children help out at home.
o Give your children age-appropriate chores. Don’t step in and do it yourself even when it’s hard to watch them make mistakes. Over time they’ll learn. Remember: the more you do for them, the less they appreciate your efforts.
o By helping with simple household chores like feeding the dog or stacking dirty dishes on the counter, kids realize that all these things take effort. They’ll notice more the efforts others do on their behalf.
7. Practice saying No.
o 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 helps them learn limits and patience and makes saying yes that much sweeter.
o This is a great time to teach children about “wants” vs. “needs.”
Each of these steps can help nurture a caring, responsible, respectful, and independent person who feels and expresses gratitude for what he has.