Getting a child to say “please” and “thank you” isn’t terribly hard. We demand it. “Would you like some fruit snacks?” “Say please.” “The Target lady just gave you a sticker, what do you say?”
But what I’ve been pondering, is how do we teach our children to understand the depth of thanks—how do we teach them to really mean it? In other words, how do we teach young kids to be thankful?
To me, kindness and thankfulness go hand-in-hand, and I think too often we focus on what our kids should be doing and don’t give them credit for the small acts of kindness they exhibit every day.
At first glance, parents might think about how to teach the social graces of “thank you.” Should a 2-year-old be forced to say thank you to Grandma for a gift? Should a 4-year-old write a thank you note for a birthday present? Should a 6-year-old show appreciation for being invited over to a friend’s house for a play date?
Parents often have the best intentions of raising a thankful child as part of their parental job descriptions. We tend to use the social graces of “please” and “thank you” as one index of raising a “good kid.” Of course, manners such as these are important tools for getting along and working together with others in our society.
Think about something in the past year for which you are thankful. Is it a person, place, or thing? Maybe it is an event. Did you say “thank you?” How did you express your gratitude? Did it feel sincere or more like satisfying a social expectation?
Research has shown that when we express gratitude, we are more likely to be optimistic about our lives and have fewer physical ailments, and we’ll also feel inclined to exercise more. Another study also found that when we are thankful, we experience more energy and enthusiasm— which ultimately leads us to accomplishing more and feeling more in control of our lives. Based on these proven benefits of gratefulness, it is imperative that we not only create and maintain a spirit of gratitude in our own lives, but that we also work diligently to raise thankful children.
Kids are known to be self-centered, but that doesn’t mean that cultivating thankfulness is impossible. Here are four tips to help you raise a child who understands and practices gratefulness year-round:
1. Model Gratefulness (tell them thank you; let them hear you thank others)
2. Explain the Value of Needs and Wants (don’t give them everything they want, give them what they need and let them earn what they desire)
3. Show Grace as They Learn how to Show Gratefulness (but let them know when they are being ungrateful)
4. Teach Your children How to Express Thankfulness (from a young age, be proactive and develop awareness of the need around you; give them opportunities to give back)
As your little one develops characteristics like empathy and sympathy, their sense of gratitude will progress as well. This then will become part of their value system. Teaching a child to be thankful, generous, and kind is a lifelong process and one that involves lots of friends and family to help — certainly something to be grateful for.