When I was engaged to my now husband, we spent our first Christmas together at his mom’s house. My husband comes from a large family, with an insane number of nieces and nephews.
Coming from a very small family myself, I was looking forward to all the excitement that comes with enjoying Christmas with young kids. I was excited, too. Since I had just graduated college, money was tight, but being part of the family was important to me.
I bought each little nieces and nephew a small gift so that they would have something from me on that Christmas morning. I took care to wrap each one as pretty as I could and make their little gifts extra special.
Christmas morning finally came. I was so excited as I handed each of the little ones my gifts and watched a they unwrapped them. One nephew looked at his toy, complained about how small it was, and chucked it to the side. My heart sank!
My fiance spoke to him about how rude that was. I put on a smile and said it was “Okay.” In that very moment I also vowed that if we were going to have children, I would raise them much better than that. I would raise a grateful child!
Then we had our family. Every parent knows that even when your intentions are good and you’ve taught them otherwise, sometimes kids can be ungrateful – at the most inopportune time. You’re left feeling embarrassed and wondering what else you can do to help your kids be appreciative of gifts or service. So how do we raise a thankful child in such an entitled world?
How do we raise a grateful child?
Do Your kids say “thank you”?
Start young. Very young. Teach your kids that “thank you” will be said every time someone does something nice for them – no matter how big (like a gift) or how small (picking up a toy they dropped).
It is important to be a good example, too! When they are very young, you may say “thank you” first, and then have them say it. I’ll be honest…I still have to prod my 12 year old to say “thank you.” But diligence will pay off in the end, and sometimes the 12-year-0ld does remember.
We forget how kids are like sponges, watching everything we do. They mimic all of our behaviors—good and bad! Set the example and be thankful in your own life.
- Use personal experiences as teaching tools.
- If you receive a gift tell your child how thankful you were for that gift.
- If someone opened the door for you say “thank you” and tell your child that small act of service made your morning better.
Set your Standards of Gratitude. Every parent can model them. Kids will mimic those behaviors and start expecting them of siblings and peers, too. Here are some questions and ideas that can help jump-start a Standards of Gratitude plan.
Do your kids have any household chores?
Having children do household chores shows them just how much effort it takes to run a household. Select age-appropriate chores that help them understand what it means to be part of a family. About.com has a chart with age-appropriate chores that might help you.
Whether or not you want to pay an allowance is up to you. That said, your kids are part of a household and should understand that being in a family has expectations and that they will not be rewarded for every good act or chore completed. Last but not least, remember to thank them for their efforts!
Do you know what your kids are grateful for?
Whether you buy a notebook or let the kids create their own book, have them write (or draw) in a gratitude journal. Picking just a few things every day to write or draw about will help them see how full life is and even the little things are important too. Be sure to have your own journal, too.
Another option would be to include a gratitude question as part of your dinner conversation or as part of your bedtime routine each night. Over time, it will be fun for everyone to remember what they valued in a particular moment and why they were grateful for it.
Do you volunteer or donate items to families in need?
Volunteering time or donating items to a shelter is another way to raise a grateful child. Seeing others’ circumstances makes the concept more concrete for them. Talk about your experience serving and how your child felt. Having your child see less fortunate people will help them see that they don’t have it so bad, and understand just how fortunate they really are.
Do your kids understand that it isn’t always about “more?”
Not every shopping trip needs to result in a purchase for your child and/or their guests. When going shopping, make sure the children understand that you won’t be buying them anything on this particular shopping day. Say things like “today is just a look day,” or “I’m not planning to buy anything for you today.” And stick to your guns! It can be extremely difficult when your toddler is throwing a tantrum in the toy isle, but diligence will pay off.
As kids get older, use these opportunities to help them understand the value of a dollar. Help them understand the difference of “need” and “want,” and that when they “want” something extra, they can use money they have saved for that item.
In our house I’m very open about how much things cost and the hard work my husband and I put in to pay for the things we have- our cars, gas, mortgage payments, insurance, food. Once our kids learned the value of a dollar they respect their own purchases more, and respect the family budget as well.
How to Raise a Grateful Child – It takes Time
Gratitude is a learned, practiced life skill. It doesn’t happen overnight. Even though it seems simple to us to say thank you and be grateful, kids see the world concretely and in black and white.
Be patient. Raising kids is tough. Raising a grateful child can seem exhausting. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child … so be sure to engage those close to you in your plans. Then be sure to thank them for their help!
When your kids thank you for all you’ve done for them, you will know that all that effort to raise a grateful child will have been worth it!
This post was originally posted on the now-defunct Mom’s Choice Matters blog on 9/25/2014.
About Heather Bowcutt
Heather is the is the an author of the Kids Email blog, where she offers safety and parenting tips, for when the kids are online and off.
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