As Thanksgiving approaches, children are often reminded to think about what they’re grateful for. While focusing on gratitude this special day of the year is important, what we’d really like to do as parents is instill a sense of thankfulness in our kids every day. Therapists agree that cultivating an attitude of gratitude in children early on will help them develop into adults prepared for life’s realities. Here are their tips for promoting gratefulness in our children all year long.
One of the best ways to develop a sense of gratitude is to learn to tell your children no once in a while. “Kids who have everything appreciate nothing,” said Jeff Wilbert, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Dayton. “Parents need to make sure their kids don’t get everything they want.”
For parents, this can be difficult at times. It’s a natural instinct to want to say “yes” to our kids’ desires, but in the end, we can be doing them a disservice. Having children earn a reward, instead of it being handed to them, can increase how much they appreciate it.
Teach personal responsibility
“Teach children to be responsible for their actions and they will grow up to be more responsible and appreciative of what they have and what they earn,” Wilbert said. “You have to live with the consequences of your actions and giving kids responsibility teaches them to be respectful instead of exploitive and self-centered.”
Wilbert recommends giving a weekly allowance that is conditional upon behavior, not services rendered. “Chores should be an expectation from everyone in the family,” he said. “Many parents pay their kids for helping around the house, but they need to establish expectations of how each person contributes to the family. An allowance teaches kids money management in order to get what they want instead of being showered with gifts.”
Lead by example
If you have an attitude of ingratitude your children are unfortunately likely to develop the same set of values. “Children are taught best by example,” said Susan Toole, PhD, a therapist in Centerville. “When they are treated with kindness, gratefulness and gratitude they will become like you.”
Do you express thanks for what you have? Are you thanking your children for what they do and who they are? Expressing gratitude to your children for small things, like picking up their toys, will reward both them and you. Children crave such reinforcement and will increase their responsibilities on their own if they are praised for doing so.
Make it routine
Adding a moment of thankfulness to your daily routine will encourage children to recognize just how much they have to be grateful for. At bedtime, before a meal or while saying a prayer each person in the family can share one thing they are thankful for that day. This could be something as simple as earning a good grade on a test or being happy for a sunny day. Large or small, making a point to acknowledge these sorts of things will teach children to be aware of the positives in their lives.
Share with others
Participating in volunteer projects can help your children realize just how much they have – and the importance of sharing what they have with others. For example, Toole says, “As a family, take your children to serve at a soup kitchen. Or teach them to spend some of their allowance, save some and give some away.”
As Thanksgiving comes and goes this November, try using a few of these suggestions to make being grateful a part of your family culture all year long.