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Published on November 21, 2017

little girl making her holiday wish list

Eight Great Ways to Teach Kids to be Grateful

Parents often wince at things their children say:

  • Are those all the presents I get?
  • I already have one of those.
  • I wanted a blue one.
  • I didn’t ask for that.
  • I don’t like that kind.

Why aren’t they grateful? Why don’t they appreciate everything they have? To understand, we can take steps.

First, we have to look at child development.

Toddlers are egocentric and self-centered. They think the world revolves around them. They don’t understand that others have wants, needs and feelings.  So to expect them to be grateful would be unrealistic.

Preschool children are still concrete thinkers, and are just beginning to learn about empathy and feelings—their own and those of others. When they open a gift and say, “I already have one,” They aren’t being rude or ungrateful, they are just thinking literally, and may not understand how their words affect others’ feelings.

School-age kids want everything to be perfectly fair. So it’s sometimes hard to be grateful if someone else has more.

In order to feel gratitude, we have to have some experience – having to struggle to get or achieve something, or understanding what things cost in terms of money, time, or sacrifice.

For kids, getting that experience will take some time, but parents can help. Here are some suggestions:

Create a Wish List

A child who is given everything he or she wants, when he or she wants it, may have trouble learning about gratitude. Before agreeing to buy that impulse toy in the store, ask your child to write it on a wish list. At some point, when you are ready to buy something for your child, let him or her to think about the list and choose one thing they would like most. This teaches delayed gratification, gives the child the pleasure of dreaming and hoping for something (which can encourage gratitude), and also teaches that things we want right now, without thinking too much about it, often turn out to have a lot less value than we thought.

Be Intentional with Gifts

For major gift giving occasions like Christmas and birthdays, resist the urge to get your child everything he or she asks for. It’s also fine to give a gift that the child needs, or a gift that you know would be good for your child. One family gave the children a gift of a zoo membership. The kids were a little disappointed because it wasn’t a toy, but later appreciated all the fun family time that it generated.

Assign Chores

Be sure your child has chores that contribute to the well-being of the family. This teaches that work is necessary to live in society. When we work for something, it has more value. Chores also teach us to appreciate what others do for us, and make us grateful for time spent doing what we want, after the work is done.

Practice Gratitude Daily

Include gratitude in daily conversation with your children. Say table grace at mealtimes, or simply say, “How lucky we are to have this delicious meal tonight.” Ask children to tell about the highlight of their day, or tell about someone who did something nice for them. Point out helpers in the community—give a thumbs-up to the utility worker fixing something on your street, or a high-five to the nurse who gives you a flu shot.

Say “No” Sometimes

Remember that saying no sometimes makes a “yes” all that much sweeter. A child who never hears “no” will have trouble being grateful for the “yeses”. You can still be positive when you say no. “That’s a cool toy, and I see why you’d like it, but not today.” “It’s suppertime now. We will save the candy until tomorrow.”

Be a Role Model

Show and verbalize your own gratitude. Encourage your child to say “please” and “thank you” but also demonstrate by using grateful words yourself. Verbalize feelings for children. “I really appreciated it when that man held the door for us.” “It made me happy to see you share that with your brother.”

Encourage Generosity

Plan a monthly “Good Will” project for your family. Shovel the neighbor’s sidewalk, clean out unused toys and donate them, volunteer at the animal shelter, draw pictures or make cards for the nursing home. The list is endless, and the activities don’t have to involve a lot of time or money. Insist on thank you notes. The youngest children can scribble on the note you’ve already written.

Older kids can draw pictures or write a few words on a photo of the gift. Hand-written notes may still be the most meaningful, but texts and emails are OK. The point is, a thank you note makes us pause to think about the kindness that someone extended to us.

Be Patient!

Learning to be thankful and grateful takes time and experience. Use the holiday season to start teaching some of these important lessons. We wish you a joyous and grateful holiday season!

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