Just a few days ago, we saw majority of our children stuff their Halloween baskets with sweets. In less than 50 days, we will witness once again, our children unwrap a mountain of toys under the Christmas tree.
No doubt, we all want our children to be more appreciative of the gifts they receive during the holiday season, but how do we raise a thankful child and teach them that the real pleasure of the holiday is in giving?
With so much distraction these days, it becomes more difficult to be mindful and appreciative of what is around us. Emphasis on tradition and togetherness, love and thankfulness take a sideline, as we tend to put more importance on the “frivolities” of the holidays. We forget that when our children grow up, it’s not the toys that they got or didn’t get that they are going to remember, but the traditions and family activities of the season.
Since thankfulness is a learned life skill, it needs to be nurtured daily through our own words and deeds, while keeping our child’s development in mind. For instance, since young children are only beginning to comprehend that “please” and “thank you” are more than magic words that please Mommy and Daddy, they don’t understand the concept of gratitude in the way that adults do. No matter, it is important to give a lot of attention to their spontaneous hugs and kisses as a measure of their show of gratitude towards you.
“Empathy is a cornerstone of appreciation, and it takes years before children are able to think beyond their own wants and needs,” says Neri Wallace, a child and family Therapist and director of the Heights Center for Adult and Child Development in Brooklyn, USA.
In an article posted by pediatricservices.com for educational purposes in 2008 and modified in January 26, 2013, Grace Bennett writes: “Gratitude is a social grace that takes years to develop – and that many adults have yet to master. Thankfully, there are many ways that caring and concerned parents can raise their preschoolers to become more appreciative and to show it.”
Below are some realistic strategies that Bennett shares with us:
Show your children that you’re thankful for them.
Children don’t come into the world hardwired to be appreciative: They learn this over time. Before kids can show concern for other’s feelings, they have to feel loved and cared for: “Loving attention enables them to develop empathy,” notes child and family therapist Neri Wallace.
Besides TLC (tender loving care), you can cultivate gratitude by tuning children into the pleasure of being appreciated. For instance, you might tell your daughter, “I’m so happy to have a little girl like you,” to express how thankful you are to have her in your life.
Be appreciative yourself.
Do unto others as you expect your kids to do unto you—and everyone else. Children are apt to do as we do, not as we say. Particularly for those who are not yet talking, modeling is the best way to teach social conventions so they can be internalized. Rather than prompting young children to say “please” and “thank you,” manners should be modeled at all times through thankful gestures, towards our spouse and other people. For it is our actions that will shape our children’s habits.
Let your children know you’re grateful for what they do.
Also essential to raising a more thankful child is to praise and acknowledge considerate things that a child says and does. This lets a child know when his actions have made someone happy. In time, he will remember how to say “thank you” on his own.
Don’t demand thanks.
Rather than commanding your child to be courteous (“Thank Aunt Sue for the block set right now!”) or withholding a gift or goodie if he doesn’t say thank you, praise him when he is courteous. “Gratitude shouldn’t stem from shame or fear of punishment,” Wallace explains.
While gentle reminders (“What do you say?”) can help preschoolers learn courtesy, the best way to teach thankfulness is to demonstrate considerate behavior and include your children in the effort. For instance, you might say to your 3 year-old, “Let’s both say thank you to Aunt Sue for bringing you the block set.” If your son doesn’t join in, don’t force the issue. Simply tell Aunt Sue, “Michael doesn’t feel like talking right now, but I’m sure he’ll love your wonderful birthday present.” Later, when Michael is playing with the blocks, explain that it makes people feel good when you thank them for gifts. Eventually, as your child matures and doesn’t see the world exclusively through his own eyes, he’ll more often think of others and express his gratitude to them.
Take your child’s temperament into account.
While a more talkative child is more likely to say “thank you,” for a reserved child, a smile may speak louder than words.
Remember, kids say what’s on their minds. While adults have learned that good manners make for good relationships, impulsive preschoolers are apt to blurt out whatever comes to mind. What may come across as a display of rudeness or ingratitude is only a product of a child’s developmental stage. As they mature emotionally, and with positive encouragement from teachers and parents, they will learn to make amends for their ungrateful behavior.
Practice makes perfect: role-play appreciation.
Take advantage of a preschooler’s love of pretend play to act out different scenarios with teddy bears and dolls in which a “thank you” is required. With older kids, try sitting down before a birthday or holiday and rehearsing how to receive an unappealing gift graciously. Ask, “What would you say if you got something you didn’t like?” If nothing comes to mind, practice responses that convey gratitude without faking enthusiasm, such as “Thank you so much!”
Embrace a ‘less-is-more philosophy.’
If your child’s room resembles a toy store, such overabundance may dull his sense of appreciation. If they get a mountain of toys for their birthday or for Christmas, you may want to put away some for another time. In this way, each gift becomes special and is more valued. Otherwise, children come to believe that they are entitled to all that they have and more.
Encourage your children to pitch in and help others.
When children help others, they not only learn how good it feels to give but also gain a better appreciation of other people’s needs. Kids of any age can assist you in sorting through clothes to donate to charity, or visiting kids in orphanages or people in homes for the aged. Be sure to explain that all people need help in different ways, so we need to pitch in and give one another a helping hand. For instance, you might tell preschoolers that some people are lonely because their kids live far away, and that your visits will cheer them up. Sharing experiences like these makes children feel important and moves their focus from themselves to others.
By nurturing thankfulness in your children, their gratitude will grow naturally. But as with everything with children, the earlier you start, the more likely it is to become a habit.