You are at your in-law’s house and your child has just been handed a present. How many of you do what I do? I wait ten seconds, nudge them gently on the arm, and, in a gruff whisper, remind them to say “thank you.” I typically have to do it a few times because my child is so enamored by the gift, she has turned off her listening ears. Is she ungrateful? No! She is stoked that she just got a gift. She will say “thank you” in her own time. Our eagerness for our children to be grateful can cut right through the lesson and can easily become a command. What does this really teach my child? Not much, except that she will always get a nudge on her arm when she gets a gift in front of me. While we often tell our children to say “please” and “thank you,” the actual practice of gratitude has lasting benefits that will improve your child’s life. So let’s explore how we can make that happen.
Before we dive into how we can teach gratitude, we must first understand when they can comprehend the concept. Generally, by 15-18 months your child can grasp the concept of thankfulness. If he hands you a bottle and you say “thank you!” they are very pleased with themselves. By age two or three, your child can start talking about being thankful. (this is likely when my nudging and gruff whisper came to be) And by about four years-old, your child can be a full-on practitioner of the great sport of gratitude. However, just like with any good habit, gratitude is a practice. It’s true! I looked it up on Parent.com. It contains an article called Teaching Children To Be Grateful. This article remind us that we “can’t expect gratitude to develop overnight – it requires weeks, months, even years of reinforcement.” And, apparently, that doesn’t have to include the nudging.
The practice is worth the time. There are many long-term benefits to the practice of gratitude. A positive attitude is one of them. Huffpost.com contributor Andrea Reiser wrote a wonderful article, 11 Tips for Instilling True Gratitude in Your Kids, that offers wonderful encouragement. According to Reiser’s research “kids who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and family.” To compliment this, blogger Katie McLaughlin of Pickanytwo.net adds “when we’re grateful, we’re often healthier, more positive, and more resilient.” By practicing gratitude on a consistent basis, we are setting our children up to live healthier lives. We are also teaching them to respect people and possessions. Reiser reinforces this notion by saying “when kids recognize that the things they own and the opportunities they have come from someone other than themselves it helps them develop a healthy understanding of how interdependent we all are.” And although we might think this is common knowledge, she warns that giving in to every desire your child has will ruin any advancement you are making towards raising a child with gratitude. Children who get whatever they ask for don’t “learn to value or respect their possessions.” Children who are actively practicing the act of gratitude also have a stronger respect for other people. This perspective is priceless, as it creates empathy and creates a person who has a greater appreciation for the value of every person. In fact, let’s take it one step further. When our children volunteer to help other people, they are more likely to appreciate all aspects of their lives.
Even in a pandemic, there are steps we can take to practice gratitude on a daily basis. These must become as habitual as brushing our teeth in order to really take hold; so they must be simple. Here are three really good ways to practice gratitude daily:
LET YOUR CHILD HELP
Provide your children the opportunity to give you a hand with simple chores around the house. See last week’s blog on chores for a list of ideas. This will give your children a greater appreciation for what it takes to make a house run. Take this a step further and explore how you can help your neighbors. Perhaps leaving flowers at a doorstep of a random neighbor will brighten everyone’s day!
Just be grateful. It may seem simple, but it will make a huge impact on the way your child sees life. Tell him “thank you” and “I’m proud of you, buddy” for the simple things. This verbal note of appreciation goes a long way to making your child a more confident individual. As Reiser says, “when our kids see us expressing sincere thanks all the time they’ll be more inclined to do so as well.”
PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE
This does not have to be hard. I promise. In fact, McLaughlin has a few great ideas to get you started. Create a Thankful jar. Put pieces of paper, a pencil and some crayons next to the jar. Every day, each person in your house must add to the jar. It can be a drawing or words. Work to fill the jar up and then read the jar at the end of the month. Did you know that going to Sunday School can be a great weekly practice, too? Yep. Reiser reminds us that “spirituality and gratitude go hand in hand.” The concepts of helping others and showing thanks are also the fundamental practices of most religions.
I’m thankful that you read this blog today. And I’m grateful that you are able to enjoy time with your family to practice the techniques above. See…check…I’ve done my practice. What will you do for yours?
GOOD NEWS OF THE DAY
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never ever have enough.”Oprah