The mom sits on the edge of her seat, silently chanting in her head “Say it. Please say it.” as she waits for her child to speak. Finally, in that brief pause between the tearing off of the wrapping paper and the devouring of the contents inside, those precious words are uttered by her child.
Doing a wild victory dance within the confines of her own mind, the mom smiles at the gift giver, attempting to convey that notion that her child always displays such a gracious and thankful attitude. Her child would never simply open a present, eager to get to the contents inside, without any concern given to those present. (yeah, right.)
As any parent can tell you, it is easy to prompt a child to say “thank-you” when given something. It is much more difficult to teach a child to truly have a gracious heart and genuinely express gratitude. Children are self-focused by nature, exisiting in a world they deem to be solely about “Me! Me! Me!”. Gratitude is a perception, a way of looking at the world. It cannot merely be taught by prompting “What do you say, little Johnnie?” but rather is created and shaped in the pauses of life. Grateful children learn to look outside of themselves, which can be a hard thing for little ones who are naturally self-centered to do. Children who get the act of being thankful notice and appreciate the world around them. Below are a few ways that gratitude and thankfulness can be instilled in the hearts of young children.
1. Be a real-life example. Parents can constantly prompt children to say thank-you until they send that child off to college, but will have taught the child nothing unless they are modeling gratitude their own selves. If parents want their children to show gratitude, they have to first show it. Be sure to express thankfulness to waiters when dining out with the family, take the time to tell children their hard work picking up the toys was appreciated and always share a kind sentiment with a spouse while little ones are present (and when they are not). When children see mom and dad displaying grateful hearts, they are more likely to do so themselves.
2. Keep a gratitude journal and add to it daily. Keep a small calender on the kitchen table and have everyone contribute something they were thankful for each day. This is a great dinner time activity and a good way to notice and appreciate the small things in life.
3. Volunteer. Giving back to others is a great way to learn gratitude. Many parents think that it is impossible to volunteer their time and services with little ones in tow.Community Kids Network is a local website the strives to connect parents and children with volunteer opportunities they can do together in the Dallas/ Fort Worth area.
4. Enlist the help of children. Children hold a high position in today’s society, sometimes a little bit too high. Although many parents do require their children to help out around the house, there are some that shy away from asking kids to lend a hand. When children are not required to do household chores, a feeling of entitlement can settle in. Asking children to complete particular chores helps create a gracious spirit and provides an excellent arena for parents to express thankfulness for the assistance provided by little hands.
5. Practice saying “no”. Parents sometimes feel guilty for saying no to children’s requests, finding themselves buying more and more for their little ones than they ever imagined they would. When children never want for anything, they lose the ability to be thankful for what they have. Although it can be hard to say no to sweet little faces asking for a new toy (especially when the new toy looks pretty cool to mom and dad as well), remember that a great way to teach children to be thankful is to limit their material possessions to a manageable amount.
6. Encourage generosity. Talk to children about how not everyone in the world lives exactly as they do, with the same comforts of life. Find ways for children to give back to others, whether by donating their time to help someone in need or giving away gently used items to someone who could benefit from them. Children have a desire to help. Encourage that desire and let them know that even at a young age they can make a positive difference in someone else’s life.