With Thanksgiving coming up at the end of this month, I naturally begin to think more and more about gratitude and the role it plays in my family. We have striven to teach our kids to appreciate what they have and be generous with others.
I’m constantly amazed at the similarities and differences between our girls. The oldest is better about saying “please” and the youngest is better about saying “thank you.”
I want to share a few things that we have learned that will hopefully help you teach your kids to be more grateful.
Lead by example
The number one way kids learn from you is by observing how you act, not by listening to what you say. That’s why I love the lyrics to the country song Watching you by Rodney Atkins. If you want grateful children, then you must first have a healthy attitude of gratitude yourself. To quote another country song (now you know what I listen to), “Be a best friend, tell the truth, and overuse I love you.” I think this
country world would be a significantly better place if we all were to overuse phrases like “Thank you” and “I love you.” And isn’t that what we are really saying when we are generous with others? We are saying “thank you” to whatever Creator you believe in for what we have and “I love you” to the person you are giving to. Let your children observe those habits in you first and foremost.
When giving, involve your children
My kids have too many toys. So every month or two, my wife goes through the toy box and dejunks. We then donate the toys either to neighbors of less means or to our local second hand store. What we have learned is that we need to involve our kids in this process for several reasons.
- They don’t wonder where their toys have gone if they saw them given away.
- We let them do the giving to neighbors. This is especially important if our girls play with the neighbors. We have given away our girls’ toys without them knowing and that later created confusion when they saw the neighbors playing with the toys. But more importantly, it gives our kids the opportunity to help their peers and see the joy that giving brings to the lives of their peers.
- When donating to an organization where our kids will not have the opportunity to see the people who benefit from the donations, we always make sure to tell them, “We need to give this toy to another little girl who doesn’t have any toys. She’s your friend. Can you help her?” By phrasing it as a question, we allow our children to make the decision to give.
By now, you are probably wondering why I’m talking so much about giving in a post about gratitude. I believe that giving and gratitude are almost synonymous. Why would I give if I weren’t grateful and how could I be grateful if I didn’t give? Consider Ebenezer Scrooge for a moment. Once transformed, he expressed his gratitude to the spirits by giving “in word and deed” every day for the rest of his days. In fact, the name Ebenezer is biblical and means gratitude.
Reward gratitude with additional privileges and responsibilities
As I put my girls down for bed Halloween night this year, my three year old said to me, “Thank you daddy for taking us trick-or-treating.” That simple statement immediately warmed my heart. She demonstrated responsibility, maturity and gratitude in that moment. As a result, she has earned additional trust and willingness on my part to extend privileges and responsibilities to her. I am more willing to indulge her in certain areas such as getting to go trick-or-treating. Notice that I said “getting to go.” Participating in holiday festivities, especially ones that involve large amounts of sugar, are privileges, not rights. So as our kids show gratitude for the privileges afforded them, we reward them with additional privileges. It’s a cyclical process that, once rolling, can be a very powerful teacher and motivator.
Last, do not over-indulge your children
One of the biggest mistakes that I see parents making, for several reasons, is over-indulgence. How do you expect your kids to appreciate anything when they get everything? Let them learn to enjoy and appreciate what they have. In fact, what we do each year after Christmas is sort through all of the presents our girls received and put most of them away in our closet. We let them play with a few toys for either weeks or months, have them donate those toys and then we pull down several new items from the stash. This way, our girls have the opportunity to receive new toys throughout the year for good behavior and the opportunity to continuously donate toys to others. Similar to what I said before, toys are a privilege that is earned not a right. All too often, rights go unappreciated whereas privileges earned are cherished.
Ultimately, our children have to choose to be grateful. But we have the opportunity to give them habits and experiences that greatly encourage an attitude of gratitude.