During the holidays, we are often reminded that it is the “Season of Gratitude”, a time when we reflect on what we have in our daily lives and be thankful for what surrounds us. Although gratitude should be and is practiced daily by people across the globe, some of us need reminders to take a break and really focus on what matters. Even more importantly, children should learn about gratitude; the earlier the better. As a role model, whether you are a parent, a relative, a caregiver, or an educator, it’s up to you to lead the way and teach a child about the importance of gratitude.
Gratitude is More than “Thanks”
Many parents start to encourage their young children to say “thanks” even before they become fully conversational. While saying thank you is important, sometimes it becomes too monotonous, a little mimicky, and even said without any meaning behind it. Parents want to have a polite child. Not only is it important to be a conscientious member of society, but it makes parents look a little better. Let’s face it, children are often a reflection of their parents and no one wants to be accused of having a rude child. If your child resists a simple “thank you”, it may not mean that he or she is rude, but it is important to teach gratitude and how to show it to others. Basically, “thank you” is not going to cut it in this world. If you want to have a grateful child, you’ll have to go a bit deeper.
Gratitude Costs Nothing
Teaching your child gratitude costs nothing, in fact, it may actually save you money in the long run. A grateful child is less likely to get everything that he or she wants and may actually start asking for less. Does this mean that you should say “no” to everything that your child wants? Of course not, but the more you say “not this time” may lead to less whining and hearing less of “life’s not fair”. It’s a hard thing to do, saying no, particularly if you grew up with little and what to provide more for your child. However, simply filling their lives with material items will not automatically create a grateful child. Gratitude is made for everyone and you don’t have to be affluent, academically minded, a believer of organized religion, or have lived a life of hardships to teach and practice the art of thanks. So, there’s really no excuses to not be thankful.
Going Beyond Material Rewards
When talking with your child about gratitude, remember that there is no right or wrong answer. You can guide him or her through the process of identifying what he or she is grateful for, but you shouldn’t decide for him. Let’s say a five-year old boy is thankful for his super hero toys, his bicycle, and chocolate ice cream. These items are essentially materialistic, but discuss how these things help him be a better person. For instance, you can discuss how super heroes are “good guys” that do nice things for others, a bicycle is a good way to be healthy and many people are thankful for good health, and the chocolate ice cream is a treat that many people do not have the chance to eat.
As they become older and gratitude discussions become more frequent, children begin to gain a better understanding on their sense of purpose and why helping others is important, as well as showing and practicing gratitude. Whether a child writes a thank you note to his or her grandparent or simply thinks of someone other than him or herself, he or she is slowly becoming a grateful individual. Be patient and don’t forget to model gratitude year round.