Tips on how to teach thankfulness to kids.
It’s that time of year again. Thanksgiving long weekend: three days off to celebrate with family and friends. It’s time to be thankful for what we have… are you thankful for what you have, really?
Thankfulness is a hard value to grasp but a really important one. People who are thankful and/or grateful are more likely to be optimistic and happy, with less chance of depression and stress.
So how can we teach thankfulness to our kids in a self-centered society? Here are 3 ways to do it :
1) Manners that count
At 18 months, children understand and can be asked to say “please” and “thank you”. Insist on it. It’s really just a habit to practice at home first.
Don’t just expect it, but say it too. Kids are little sponges that are learning by watching you, so use it at to advantage. It works, I swear! For example, my husband and I often thank each other during a meal; my husband can thank me when I cook dinner and it’s ready just as he’s arriving home. To my surprise, my children have started to say the same thing in the last couple of weeks. My youngest even told his preschool teacher, while sitting at the table for lunch, « look, my maman cooked that for me! ». It’s a good start for 3 years old!
Furthermore, since I stopped (or almost) saying “good job”, I say a little bit more « thank you ». For example, instead of saying : « good job putting your plate on the counter after dinner », I say « thank you for putting your plate on the counter, it helps me to clean up the kitchen faster ». Or instead of saying « good job cleaning up your toy room » I say « thank you for cleaning up your toy room, I like it when there is no toys on the floor ».
Go a little bit further by asking your child to say “thanks” to his coach at the end of the practice, write a “thank you” note to a friend who helped him, or write a “thank you” note to his teacher when he learned something new.
2) Don’t do everything for them.
The more you do for them, the less they will appreciate your help. For example, my youngest is learning how to get dressed by himself, but he is still struggling with zippers and buttons. I let him try it : he won’t learn if he doesn’t anyway! But it’s a perfect opportunity for him to ask for help if it doesn’t work well and be thankful for the help.
Go beyond by getting them involved in the chores and/or meal preparation. Kids like to help naturally, so let them do it! It might not be as well done as you would have liked, but let it be. Forget the temptation of redoing it or « helping » doing something your child can do : it will just tell them that it wasn’t good enough… and they won’t likely do it again! (see here for an age appropriate chore chart that I use).
You can go a little bit further by getting involved in the community. It was one of the things my husband and I wanted to do when we had kids, but we fell into the « I don’t have time » habit (well, with reasons!). This one is something we will need to work on this year! By getting the kids involved in actions that help.
3) Say no!
Don’t give them everything they want and expect them to be grateful! Give them time and memories instead of gifts. The reasons are that 1) it gets really hard to teach thankfulness to a kid that receives everything he wants and 2) getting a lot of gifts, often, is overwhelming for kids. They can’t appreciate each gift or its value, because there is too much. I have to admit, when my kids receive too many gifts, I take some of them, those that they didn’t pay attention to right away, and hide them to give them back another time! Same thing with their toys: I sometimes hide some and rotate them every couple of weeks so they have few to play with. It’s not as overwhelming for them and it keeps their playspace cleaner J
You can go beyond by giving used toys and clothes, money and/or food to less fortunate. Again, start by doing it yourself, with your own stuff, and explain to your child what you are doing and why. It’s a really hard one for kids so don’t expect them to do it right away!
Have a great Thanksgiving week-end!