I was caught off guard the other day when a women thanked me for saying thank you to her. Umm. Ok. She acted as if she hadn't heard those two simple words in years. Since that encounter, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to give thanks and how do I, as a parent, raise attitudes of gratitude.
The spirit of thankfulness is a complex one for young kids to grasp, but by modeling generosity in our everyday actions and by openly talking about the subject, your children will begin to absorb and emulate this emotion. And I’m not talking about the usual prompt, “What do you saaaay?” that we’ve all sung to our kids. Reminding kids to say thank you is simply a matter of politeness and doesn’t necessarily translate into a general attitude of gratitude.
So, how do we raise thankful children? According to Emily Geizer from Child Perspective; Real Parenting Solutions, here are four steps;
1. Make gratitude a habit. Spend time each day appreciating what you have (love, shelter, food, family, friends, courage). You might create a daily ritual or tradition to help you remember to be grateful and establish family traditions for thinking about what we are thankful for and sharing it with others. Maybe you have a thankful tree, journal, shoebox, tablecloth, calendar, or space on the refrigerator.
2. Adopt an attitude of gratitude. This means being thankful no matter what our situation in life. Thankfulness means that we are aware of both our blessings and disappointments but that we focus on the blessings.
3. Express your thanks out loud. Don’t be quietly thankful. Your children need to know you are thankful for them, for your home, for friends, mentors, and for the other good things in your life. Celebrate your thankfulness often and initiate conversations.
4. Be generous or giving and express how it affects others. Talk about being on both sides: giving and receiving. There are many ways to give: donating blood, money, food, clothing, time, and/or energy. Share these experiences with your children. Many community service projects are appropriate for elementary aged children.
By establishing any one of these practices, you will raise thankful hearts that bicker less, need less, and whine less. Thankful hearts are always more content, more giving, and more joyful.
One of my favorite ways to emulate the above steps is to incorporate a "Thank Bank" into your household. All you need is a jar, some paper and pens. Make a rule that by dinner-time, everyone has to drop a note into the Thank Bank of what from their day they were thankful for. To liven up the dinner conversation, pull out the notes and have each person elaborate on why they were thankful for that specific thing.