With Thanksgiving but a few days away, we focus on gathering with our families and being thankful. In preparation for the holiday, children are encouraged in school to think about what they are thankful for, and often families will encourage everyone around the table to say what they are thankful for as they sit down to dinner. But what can parents to do help our sons (and daughters) be more grateful and feel less entitled on a regular basis? Here are a few Tips for Encouraging Thankfulness:
Explain Why Gratitude is Important. Children can tend to believe that people (especially their parents) are supposed to help them, rather than recognizing that they should be grateful for assistance. When you go out of your way for your child, make sure he understands that it is a choice you are making, and that he should be thankful for that choice. Explain that everyone who helps him (especially his parents) is doing it out of the kindness of his or her hearts, not because it is the law of the land. This message will be heard more clearly if you deliver it with lightness and humor, rather than in a tone which tries to make your child feel guilty for not saying thanks.
Stay Vigilant on the Hand Written Thank You Notes. As soon as he can write, insist that your son send a thank you note whenever appropriate. In the early school years, if your son has any big birthday parties with lots of presents, make sure he writes a thank you note for each present he receives from his friends. You can buy “fill in the blank” thank you notes if necessary. Sit with him (or on him) until he gets them done. It is important to get him into the habit of thanking people for their gifts and kindnesses. Resist the temptation, even as he gets older, to sanction thank you notes via email. Hand written notes take more time, and more effort, but it reinforces the importance of gratitude far more than a quickly dashed off email. Besides, people still really appreciate the effort of writing and mailing a note.
Volunteer with your Children. Working side by side with your children to help others brings out the best in everyone. Helping others makes you and your family feel purposeful and good, you experience the gratitude of the people you help, and your children are bound to be more thankful for what they have in their lives when they help others who are less fortunate. We at GCP know a mother and daughter who have been spending Sunday mornings delivering Meals-on-Wheels for many years. The daughter is now a teenager. We marvel that regardless of whatever friction may exist between them in any given week, their Meals-on-Wheels time together is friction-free. Investigate how you and your children can volunteer to help others in your neighborhood.
Model Grateful Behavior. Gratefulness begins at home, and it begins with parents demonstrating gratitude by thanking people (including our children) for their help. Showing your children that you are thankful motivates them to act and feel the same way.
Be Patient and Consistent. Vigilance is key when trying to grow grateful children. Do not be discouraged when despite your best efforts, your son demonstrates “ungrateful oaf” behavior from time to time. Just keep working with him, and remember to be grateful when he remembers to say thank you!
Happy Thanksgiving to you all from GCP.