As we embark on the Thanksgiving season when we can spend time with family and friends, it’s important to take a moment not to just eat turkey and mashed potatoes, but to be truly grateful for all that we have. Ideally, this is something we do not just on the holidays but throughout the year. As a parent, one of my biggest goals is hoping that I can raise our children to be grateful for what they have and to help those who aren’t as fortunate. We live in a beautiful city, we have a home, and we have food to eat. These are the basics, but if your children are like mine, they have far more than just the basics, so I want to teach them to be grateful — but how do we do that? I am not an expert, and this is a work in progress in our house, but I have found a few simple things we can do as a family to instill gratitude in our children.
Gratitude is not something that comes overnight; it takes practice — everyday practice. We can model this for our children simply by using the words “please” and “thank you” when we talk to our children and others and insist they use the same words. I try to remind my children thank-yous aren’t just for material things but for simple acts such as the crossing guard who helps you cross a street, every coach at the end of practice and a game, and in restaurants when someone serves your food or takes away your plate.
Another way we can model gratitude for our children is by teaching them the importance of writing or drawing thank-you notes. In a world of emojis and chat abbreviations, there is nothing better than the sentiments of a handwritten note. I am a bit of a stickler about this, so in our house, if thank-you notes aren’t written in a timely manner, the gifts are taken away until the notes are completed, and if the gift is money, it cannot be spent until the note is written. These notes can be great lessons in practicing how to express gratitude.
We can also practice gratitude daily by acknowledging the things we are grateful for. Some families may choose to do this at bedtime around prayers or a quiet moment. In our house, we try to do it every night around the dinner table. We all take turns sharing two things — something good that happened that day and an example of how we were kind to others.
DON’T GIVE IN
As parents, we want our children to be happy, and sometimes we get that confused with giving them everything they want, so we have to practice saying no. This is easier said than done, especially when your 3-year-old is having a meltdown in the toy aisle at Target. It can be difficult to teach gratitude if your children never have to want for anything. Whatever it is they want, have them keep a list and wait for a birthday, holiday, or special occasion.
Another great way to model not giving in to every want is by asking your children to pitch in above and beyond their “normal” chores to earn what they want. It’s a tough lesson, but one that will last a lifetime — the harder we have to work for something or wait for it, the more grateful we are when we get it.
TEACH THEM TO GIVE BACK
This can be something as small and simple as baking cookies for the mail carrier or bringing in the garbage cans for a neighbor. Teach your children that it feels good to give back and make someone else happy. The old saying “it is better to give than to receive” is a tough concept for young children to grasp, but as long as they understand the importance of giving to others, you can talk about how it makes them feel to do something kind for someone else.
As we head into the holiday season, there are many opportunities for families to give back — from serving a meal at a shelter to adopting a family for Christmas or visiting shut-ins.
In conclusion, teaching gratitude takes time and practice, so remember to be patient. Especially during the holiday season when kids are constantly bombarded with messages about things they “must have.” Look for teachable moments and keep reinforcing how important it is to be grateful for what we have. I believe there is truly nothing better than a grateful child who realizes what he or she has been given, and then turns around and wants to help others.