A wise person once said, “Gratitude is something of which none of us can give too much. For on the smiles, the thanks we give, our little gestures of appreciation, our neighbors build their philosophy of life.” As we approach Thanksgiving, stopping to be thankful and teaching young children gratitude is perfect timing. November’s theme is gratitude, but it should truly be part of our everyday routine. Look around and you will see many schools are filled with art worked titled. “I am thankful for….” But does that translate to teaching them to be thankful?
Raising thankful children is an ongoing process, not just for the holidays. The concept of thankfulness or gratitude are fully understood around age four. Younger children understand they are supposed to say “Please” or “Thank you,” but are still naturally self-centered humans.
Gratitude and thankfulness are ways of thinking, ways that counteracts the “gimmes” or entitlement. When children get whatever they want, whenever they want it, it dilutes the value of “things” in addition to diluting their happiness. It is never enough. Raising children filled with gratitude results more commonly in respectful adults.
There are ways to incorporate gratitude into your daily family life.
Lead by Example
This is likely the most common and easiest way to show your children to be kind, thankful and polite to others. Have you ever noticed how a toddler answers the phone? Pay attention and you will see that it is either they way you do, or another close family member. Children are always paying very close attention to their caregivers, more than you probably notice. Thank your spouse or partner regularly. Thank your children for things as simple as eating their dinner or using good manners- simple tasks you expect them to do.
Teach About Others
Teaching them about other cultures, other ways of life, other parenting styles, etc is not to “guilt” them into being thankful, but to teach them that not everyone lives the same way. For a small child, this is a complicated idea. They assume everyone’s days, lives and families are the same as their day, life and family. Teach them to be thankful for our families and how special we are that we have our own individual families. Teach them to be thankful for their freedom. We have so many freedoms that children have no knowledge of without being taught by their parents. Teach them to be thankful for simple things.
Read About Being Thankful
There are so many great children’s books with great messages. It also gives you special time to reflect with your child. Our days are so busy, it is a double bonus to read to them and make it a teaching moment. Three great books we enjoy at our house are as follows: “Bear says Thanks,” written by Karma Wilson; “Just so Thankful,” written by Mercer Mayer; and “All the World,” written by Liz Garton Scanlon.
Children learn about the importance of giving to others mainly from their parents. Take them with you to volunteer, show them kindness by stopping and helping someone in need, encourage them to give to others. One thing we do with our children is to encourage them to donate one gift to get one gift. When doing so, we talk about giving their toys another life with another family. It is a great teaching moment. Giving does not always have to be an object; teaching them to give to others by service increases their self worth and esteem.
Thank You Notes
Many parents complain they don’t have the time to have their children write thank you notes. Oddly, the person that gave the gift probably did not have a plethora of time to go shopping, but he or she took the extra time to make the occasion special for your child. According to Advanced Etiquette, a thank you note is the “finest form of expressing gratitude.” With today’s increasingly technical age, it is still imperative to teach children the importance of a personalized, hand-written thank you note.
This is a very important ingredient of gratitude. As mentioned before, children watch, mimic and learn from their parents. Realizing that you have the power to influence these small humans into becoming strong, self-worthy, positive, appreciative adults is exciting! It comes from their role models. If they are seeing their parents or caregivers as happy, confident people who give to others and show acts of kindness and respect, it isn’t foreign to them as they get older. Children are not only learning from parents behaviors, but they also pick up on moods, negative energy and frustrations.
Whether it is reading an extra story, sharing what they are thankful for during dinner, or spending extra time opening their eyes to being thankful for what they have, the benefits of raising a thankful child are unmeasurable! Studies have shown that children who are grateful are happier and more satisfied with their lives, have better relationships, are less materialistic, and display less envy and an increase in self esteem. As a close friend tells me, “gratitude is the best attitude.”