It can sound like a simple “Thank You,” or feel like a hug, or look like a Thank You card. But the feelings behind these acts usually run quite deep – both on the side of the person expressing that they are grateful – and to the person receiving it.
Try to think of a time when someone has gone out of their way to show you they are grateful to you for something you have done, and you will know what I’m talking about. It probably had a significantly positive effect on you – right?Gratitude.
My husband and I have had many discussions about how we can raise our son, Onetime (2.5 years old) to be thankful for what he has, and for the things he receives. We often hear a lot about this topic at Thanksgiving and Christmastime, but really, in order for kids to become grateful as a way of living, we need to find ways to focus on these things all year.
Here are 5 ways that I have found to make thankfulness, and an attitude of gratefulness, become part of our daily lives, and our kids’ lives.
1. Practice an Awareness of Gratitude
In order for young children to start to experience gratefulness, they have to understand what it is. One of the best ways to do this is to start labelling your gratitude towards your child.
For example, when Onetime grabbed a broom and started helping me sweep the floor the other day, I said, “I am really grateful that you like to help me clean up! Thank you!” It’s easy to find opportunities to thank your kids, if you start to look for them.
Here are some great opportunities to express gratitude to your children:
- when they clean up their toys
- when they help sweep/dust/vacuum
- when they do something kind for you
- when they do something kind for a sibling
- when they do something you’ve asked them to do right away without needing reminders
Another thing we do is to talk about what we are grateful for each night before bed. I heard Oprah suggest this years ago for adults as an exercise to help boost happiness, and I just carried it over to my son when he was old enough to have a bedtime routine.
Each night, after we have brushed teeth, and finished reading our bedtime books, we have a little chat about our day. We review the main events together and then we each share what our favourite part of the day was. We finish by saying one thing that we each are grateful for.
For a long time, I just modelled this process for my son. I would be the only one talking about what we did during the day and what my favourite part was, and what I was grateful for.
Around the age of 2, Onetime started being able to add in events from the day that he remembered, as well as his favourite parts, and things he was grateful for. Now, at 2.5 it is more a two-way conversation that is a nice daily “debriefing” and chance to reflect on our gratefulness.
For other ideas on increasing awareness of gratefulness, check out this Gratitude Activity Jar from Inner Child Fun, or this Thankfulness Tree activity from Coffee Cups and Crayons. Both ideas can be used with kids of all ages and at any time of the year.
2. Teach Kids to Show Thankfulness
Young children are notorious for not saying “Thank you” after receiving gifts, aren’t they? To adults, it sometimes feels like they are being ungrateful, when really, it is just a social awareness that has not yet developed.
To help your child learn to say thank you, Alfie Kohn, author of Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason suggests simply thanking people on behalf of your young child. Eventually, your child will learn (because they are like sponges – remember?) that these are the appropriate words to use to show gratitude.
I used his idea at my son’s second birthday when Onetime became so completely absorbed in playing with the awesome new fire truck that was his first gift, that he didn’t even want to open any of the rest of his presents!
Instead I said a silent thank you to Alfie, enlisted the cousins and friends to help unwrap the other gifts, and said “Thank you,” to all the gift givers on behalf of my son. That way the givers felt thanked, and my son got to hear the appropriate words for the situation.
It didn’t make sense to me to prompt him to say thank you. I didn’t want to embarrass him and I don’t want him to just parrot the words anyway, I want him to truly feel thankful.
What I could have done that I didn’t do, was to talk with him ahead of time about how to express our gratefulness to all the gift-givers (although, I’m not sure that would have made a difference to him at age 2).
But, at 2.5 I’m starting to see that he’s much more capable of taking in these kind of “prep” talks and often remembers to say thank you now if we chat ahead of time.
I will say something like, “We are going over to Oma and Grandad’s house today Onetime. You know when Grandad always gives you a chocolate treat? What can you say to show him that you’re thankful?”
And he can usually supply the words now. If he doesn’t, I’ll just say, “You can always say “Thank You!” to show him that you like the chocolates.” And 50% of the time he does! We’re getting there!
Another nice idea to get kids thinking about thanking others is to get them involved in making Thank You Notes after their birthday party or after the holidays. There are some nice printable thank you cards from Kids Activities Blog that you can use at Christmastime, but you can use the same idea for any time of the year.
3. Cultivate a Giving Attitude
When kids get a chance to give, they experience the gratefulness of others. They also start to understand and connect the effort or time that they put in to making a gift, with what someone else has done in picking out a gift for them.
Here are some simple ideas for helping kids learn to give:
- Help them make homemade gifts/cards for friends and family members’ birthdays and at holidays (see our Nuts and Bolts Father’s Day Gift, Letter of Love to Dad, Letter of Love to Grandma, and Personal Plaques for Moms.)
- Encourage them to donate toys and clothing items that they no longer use.
- Help them share a treat with a friend or neighbours.
- Ask them to donate a portion of their allowance to a charity of their choice. Barbara Coloroso, author of Kids Are Worth It! : Giving Your Child The Gift Of Inner Discipline talks about beginning this “habit” as early as age 2 so that kids will grow up learning that we all have a responsibility to help look out for each other.
4. Avoid Spoiling
If we want kids to appreciate what they have, we can’t just give them everything they want without any effort involved on their part. Life just doesn’ t work that way, does it? It can be particularly difficult to do this when you have an only child, believe me I know!
But Barbara Coloroso’s idea of giving young children an allowance can help with this idea too. Basically, she recommends giving kids as young as 2, a weekly allowance that is for the sole purpose of them learning to use money.
The allowance is not attached to anything, like the completion of chores or responsibilities. It is completely predictable and given with no strings attached.
She advocates teaching our kids to do 3 things with this allowance each week: put some of the money aside for savings, give some of the money to charity, and keep the rest for spending. She also recommends that kids should decide how much money goes towards each of these 3 things, and that they should decide which charity the money goes towards.
The idea is that by starting these habits at an early age, kids learn: A) the importance of giving, and B) the intrinsic reward of earning the things they want (which in turn, helps them to be more grateful for what they have!)
Although I haven’t tried out this idea yet, I think it has a lot of merit and we will be starting an allowance fairly soon with Onetime. Thankfully, my son hasn’t reached the age yet where he’s asking for things at the grocery store checkout counter! I know it’s coming soon though!
Hopefully, by that time, he will have a little wallet that he can pull out and I can say, “Oh, you would like a treat? Let’s see if you have enough money to buy one today!” Oh – the lessons to be learned from this! This is a whole other HUGE topic though, so that’s all I’m going to say on it for today.
5. Read about Gratefulness and Being Thankful
We read like crazy at my house! My husband will tell you that the house is sagging from all the books that we have! I can’t help it – I love good kids’ books. And there are some good ones that can get your young child/children thinking about what it means to be thankful and grateful. Some of my favourites (and Onetime’s) are:
I’m Thankful Each Day by P.K. Hallinan – A beautiful rhyming poem turned into a book for toddlers/preschoolers. The language is very catchy and the message is that we should be grateful for so many of the little things in our daily lives!
Richard Scarry’s Please and Thank You Book (Pictureback(R)) – Full of fun little stories with eye-catching illustrations of animal characters that are placed in situations where they learn to be thankful!
Gifts by JoEllen Bogart and Barbara Reid – A touching story about a grandmother who travels the world and brings back special gifts to her grandaughter. My son loves the illustrations in this book because they are photographs of plasticine scenes done in Barbara Reid’s signature and award-winning style (I met her once by the way and she is incredibly talented and just a fantastic speaker!)
My Big Book of Thank Yous by Claire Page – A fun pattern book for babies and toddlers that enumerates 10 things that a child can be thankful for each night as they say their prayers.
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