I don’t know about you but it began about a month ago in my house. The phrase “I want that for Christmas” has officially been repeated more in my house than the Disney movie Frozen. And with a four year old, that’s saying a lot. Unfortunately a thankful attitude is not something that most children are born with. Attitudes must be learned and cultivated over time. For distractible, still-developing children (and that’s pretty much all of them), gratitude can be difficult to learn. While many can be trained to say “please” and “thank you” beginning at about 18 months, true appreciativeness and generosity take time to seed and grow.
With that said, the Season of Giving, is the perfect time to begin teaching your child how to be grateful for all their blessings. There’s a difference between encouraging thankfulness in your kids and actually expecting it. As nice as it is to think about having a five-year-old who appreciates and shows gratitude for everything, the truth is, parents can feel successful if they raise a thirty-five-year-old who embodies that grateful spirit.
So what’s a parent to do? Read on to find to learn more about six key ways to encourage thankful behavior, not only during the holiday season but all year long as well! Happy Holidays!
- Be An Example: Remind yourself to model grateful behavior. In your own everyday interactions, always offer warm Thank-Yous and praise to grocery store clerks, gas-station attendants, waiters, teachers – really anyone who’s helpful to you or your child. You may think your child isn’t paying attention to those small moments, but he actually is.
- Start Early: By age 2 or 3, children can talk about being thankful for specific objects, pets, and people, By age 4, children can understand being thankful not only for material things like toys but for acts of kindness, love, and caring. So in other words, begin teaching thankfulness and generosity when children are young.
- Encourage Give & Take: Help your child understand that gifts are thoughtful gestures, not just a way for him to score material possessions. Anytime they receive a present, point out everything the giver put into it. For example, if a classmate makes them a friendship bracelet, say “Oh, wow—Maddie remembered that you thought these were cool. She picked out colors she knows you like, and it probably took her a whole hour to make. That is so nice.” Do this enough times and they’ll get the “quality, not quantity” idea before you know it. Engage them in the gift giving process by having them assist with picking out gifts for family and friends.
- Set Clear Expectations: If your child has given you a 10 page Christmas list this year, this may be the perfect opportunity to set some boundaries. Emphasize that you appreciate there are many things that your child wants, but let them know it will only be possible to get a few of them. That way, you won’t make them feel greedy or foolish for compiling a lengthy list, but you will set their expectations. And practice saying No!It sounds silly, but for many parents it is easier said than done. Kids ask for toys, video games, and candy — sometimes on an hourly basis. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to feel grateful when your every whim is granted. Saying no a lot makes saying yes that much sweeter.
- Expose Children to Different Backgrounds: It is one thing to tell your child that many people don’t have as much as they do but it is a very powerful experience when you can show them. How? Begin a tradition of charity work and donating. Start simple: As young as age 3, children can be encouraged to go through their belongings and pick out items to donate to those less fortunate. Every year after that, they can get more involved. Expose your child to people from all walksof life. We often try to shield our children from those who are less fortunate, but it’s important that kids know how lucky they are. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how often kids are moved to want to help.
- Make Gratitude a Daily Habit: Work gratitude into your daily conversation. When you reinforce an idea frequently, it’s more likely to stick. One of my favorite ways to do this is to incorporate thankfulness into dinnertime or bedtime routines. Simply have each family member recite their most favorite part of the day. You may be surprised to hear all of the wonderful things for which your child has to be thankful!