Gratitude is one of the trickiest concepts to teach -- but one of the most important. Although thankful children are more polite and pleasant to be around, there's more to it than that. By learning gratitude, children become sensitive to the feelings of others, develop empathy and other life skills along the way. Grateful children look outside their one-person universe and understand that their parents and other people do things for them -- prepare dinner, dole out hugs, teach, care for them, buy toys, etc. On the flip side, children who aren't taught to be grateful end up feeling entitled and perpetually disappointed.
Thanksgiving is a perfect time to teach children about being thankful. Here are some ideas to teach your children how to appreciate the blessings in their lives and how to express it. Try these ideas and see if they work for you. You may be pleasantly surprised with the results!
Set the Example. Parents have to model the behavior they hope their children adopt as their own. A simple, sincere expression of gratitude when your child does something they were asked to do is always appropriate. Taking an extra moment to thank a sales clerk at the store or to tip your help at home when bringing something to you lets them know that gratitude is acceptable and encouraged. 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!").
Work gratitude into your daily conversation. When you reinforce an idea frequently, it's more likely to stick. Two old-fashioned, true ideas: Make saying what good things happened today part of the dinnertime conversation, or make bedtime prayers part of your nightly routine if this is an important part of your personal belief.
Make a List. From time to time, take some time as a family to list the things you are grateful for. Children might say things like a favorite toy or food, but sometimes they will express thanks for a family where they feel safe or for a dad's income that let's them have a few luxuries.
Don't Demand Thanks. Avoid demanding thanks from your children. They will internalize example much more than they will threats or humiliation. If you offer it sincerely to them, they will learn the skills of gratitude.
Teach Through Role Playing. If you notice a lack of the gratitude attitude, consider a little role playing. Have children act out a scenario where someone went out of their way for someone else, and have the receiver express gratitude. You might even consider a negative example and see how the giver feels when his or her giving is ignored.
Establish Family Traditions. Give a "speech" before every holiday dinner, talk about the blessings you have in your family (even if it's not Thanksgiving). By having family rituals that center on gratitude, children learn to express thanks.
Have kids help. It happens to everyone: You give your child a chore, but it's too agonizing watching him a) take forever to do it or b) make a huge mess. The temptation is always to step in and do it yourself. But the more you do for them, the less they appreciate your efforts. 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. That doesn't mean you need to drag your toddler off to a soup kitchen or shelter every week. Instead, figure out some way he/she can actively participate in helping someone else, even if it's as simple as making cupcakes for a sick neighbor. As you're stirring the batter or adding sprinkles, talk about how you're making them for a special person, and how happy the recipient will be.
Encourage generosity. Donate toys and clothes to less fortunate kids! Giving to others inspires children to go through their own closets and give something special to those in need, as well.
Insist on thank-you notes. Parents sometimes make their children write thank-you-s or make phone calls to thank for gifts or kind gestures. This teaches children not to take things for granted. .
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” sometimes makes hearing “yes” much sweeter.
Be patient. You can't expect gratitude to develop overnight -- it requires weeks, months, even years of reinforcement. But in time, you will be rewarded.
MAY YOU HAVE A BLESSED THANKSGIVING, AND MAY GRATITUDE CONTINUE TO BE A PART OF THE HOLIDAY SEASON!