Teaching Gratitude to Young Children
Thank you – we say it a million times a day it seems, but is there any meaning behind it? Why do we prompt our children to say “thank you” without explaining what it means, and why we are asking them to respond in that manner? Gratitude often gets reserved for the Thanksgiving/November time of the year when suddenly everyone is thankful for everything. But, why stop then? Let’s continue all year long!
1. Regularly discuss what the members of your family are thankful for. Go around the table at dinner and share. Let the parents start and really have open conversations about what it means. For example: I recently told my 4 year old I was thankful for our neighborhood. How quiet and safe it is, how we can walk late at night without fear, how we can trust our neighbors and go to them for things we need, and explained that that is not always the case for all families. I find value in showing appreciation for what we may take for granted, not just sharing thanks for new toys or new items. We can teach our children that there is much to be thankful for outside of material items.
2. Handmade gifts – If you want to thank someone or give them an extra special treat, allow your child to create something. Receiving a hand-drawn picture, card, or homemade sweet treat means all the more than a store-bought gift. Make brownies, bake bread, have your child draw a picture and deliver to the door as a heartfelt way to make sure that person knows they are loved and appreciated. It begins a train of paying it forward and a reminder that taking the extra time to express appreciation is important and something that is engrained from early on.
3. Practicing I statements – Instead of just saying “Thank you” in a rushed manner practice the prompt “I am grateful/thankful for ___________ because____________.” I am thankful for my cat, because she snuggles with me when I am sad. I am thankful for my books, because they teach me about faraway places. As you are talking to others, use these statements in front of your children so they know that there is meaning behind sharing the value of an item or person and what they bring to your life.
We can teach our children at a young age that being grateful is key – it’s the key to learning that material items do not bring us more joy, but the simple moments of laughter and play are what we should be most thankful for. As parents, we can all use that reminder and a little more practice, too!