This seems to be a common scenario: Your child receives a gift from grandma on his birthday and you immediately say to him, "What do you say?" Your kid then utters a half-hearted, "Thank-you," as he quickly runs off to play with the newly acquired toy.
As parents, it seems like we're always reminding our children to recite those "magic" words upon receiving something from someone. Naturally, this is an important part of our child-rearing endeavors because we want our children to advance to the next level of maturity by learning about common courtesy. Mostly, we don't want other people thinking that we're raising rude and ungrateful kids.
These are important reasons for ingraining the proverbial common courtesy in our kids. But they are also selfish reasons. Teaching kids to have gratitude goes beyond the perfunctory call to grandma or the hand-etched Thank-you note immediately following a gift or kind gesture.
Gratitude also means being grateful for everything in our lives. There are many things that are easy to take for granted such as the sunshine, clean air, clean water and a picturesque view of a full moon hovering in the night sky. When children learn how to be genuinely grateful for all things it contributes to their overall happiness and well-being.
According to a study (involving adolescents ages 8 - 12) published in the Journal of School Psychology by Jeffrey J. Froh, William J. Sefick and Robert A. Emmons, gratitude is directly related to enhanced well-being and overall life satisfaction. Parents naturally want their kids to be happy. Fortunately, a child's happiness doesn't require you to grant her every wish or indulge her with every toy that appears in the TV commercials.
The following are ideas for instilling gratitude in children:
Discuss gratitude as a family
Ensure that your children understand that gratitude is more than being thankful for things they receive. For example, have them think of the people they enjoy spending time with and how it's important to be grateful for those relationships. When you are at the dinner table, have each person take a turn sharing what non-material things he or she is grateful for. As a way to follow up, have each child start a gratitude journal. Then one day each month have a discussion about what the kids are writing in their journals.
Refrain from enforcing gratitude
Children do not learn gratitude by having it force-fed to them. In other words, lecturing your children about how well-off they are compared to other children around the world does not teach gratitude.
Provide opportunities for your children to give
Parents have learned that the more things kids get, the less they appreciate what they have. While it's fun to receive gifts, it's equally enjoyable to give. It's important that kids understand that there is joy in both giving and receiving.
Keep the notion of gratitude fresh in your children's minds
A common practice among some people is to post positive thoughts or quotes around the house as a way to elevate their mood throughout the day. Use this idea to promote gratitude. Post notes around the house about what you are grateful for. Make sure your notes are conspicuous enough that your children are sure to see them wherever they are in the house.
Gratitude is more than being mature and well-mannered. It's an important aspect that contributes to our overall happiness and outlook on life. Teaching children to be grateful for all things tangible and non-tangible will help them develop a happy and charitable attitude.