Written by: Ashlee Roberts, PCAV’s 800-CHILDREN Parent Helpline Director
Tis’ the season to give thanks! But, being grateful is an attitude you can foster in your child long after the turkey is gone and the tree is decorated. Gratitude is actually one of the easier (although nothing is truly “easy” when it comes to parenting) concepts to teach. This week, in particular, I encourage you to actively model thankfulness for your children. Don’t overlook your kids’ daily deeds. Be sure to tell them what they did that you appreciate – they’ll be more likely to continue the behavior. For instance, I often tell my son how thankful I am for his patience when I’m working at home. Instead of just saying “thank you”, I’ll say something like, “thank you for being patient while mommy does her work. It’s really helpful to me, and the best part is that it allows me to get my work done faster so that I can spend more time playing with you.” Apparently he actually “got it” because he (who is only 5 years old) recently said to me, “thank you for waiting for me to finish playing on the playground. I’m tired now and can rest so you can do your work.” First off, the fact that a 5 year old had such a complex thought kinda’ blew me away, but most importantly I realized that I must not be doing too bad at this whole parenting thing!
Children who show gratitude are not only a joy to be around, but their attitude helps them have better relationships with others, get higher grades in school and grow up with a desire to give back to the community. Research shows that thankful children have higher levels of happiness and lower levels of stress and depression. It has been proven that the happiest people are those who have a sense of appreciation for life – regardless of their wealth or personal circumstances.
While Thanksgiving provides the perfect opportunity to give thanks, you can use these tips to help your child understand and express gratitude this holiday season and all year round:
Demonstrate generosity. Children learn by example, so involve your child in giving to a local charity. If it’s a toy drive, ask your child to pick out something he would want for himself and deliver the gift together. This puts giving in a context your child can understand and will help him better appreciate how fortunate he is.
Make “thanking” part of your day. Go around the dinner table and take turns saying what you’re thankful for, or end your bedtime routine with a word of thanksgiving. Let your child say what he or she is thankful for. You may be surprised at some of their answers! One night, my son said, “I’m thankful for Batman”! Although my immediate instinct was to chuckle, I reminded myself that his new batman toy was a big deal to him, and that it was actually pretty awesome he was grateful for it! As parents, it’s important to set an example of being grateful for more than just material things though. Be sure to let your children hear you giving thanks for family, acts of kindness and the earth.
Send thank-you notes. Yes, actual handwritten notes! I know it sounds like a foreign concept in this world of technology, but a handwritten note is a much better way to say “thank you” than sending an email or posting a comment on a Facebook page. Toddlers can draw pictures (scribble scrabble works too) on thank-you cards to show their appreciation. Ask them to dictate a message while you write the note. Older children can also draw picture messages and write their own notes of thanks to go with them.
Start gratitude traditions. At Thanksgiving, ask everyone to write or draw what they’re thankful for on a tablecloth (a large roll of white paper works just fine). Save the tablecloth and put it on the table every year on Thanksgiving; the whole family will be surrounded by thankfulness! Plus, if you really don’t have much to say to Aunt Jane after she told you that your turkey was too dry and the stuffing was too bland, the tablecloth will provide you with some conversation starters. 😉
A thankful heart is one of the best presents we can give our children. You can start nurturing the idea of gratitude during your child’s very first year of life by modeling thankfulness in the way you speak and interact with him. Visit our website or find us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about ways to teach gratitude during your child’s different stages of development. We’ll be posting tips and resources throughout this week.
One last thing…just so you know… I am grateful for Batman too! He has really helped provide me with some peace and quiet so I could through writing this post! 😉
~Ashlee W. Roberts – 800-CHILDREN Parent Helpline Director
If you’d like to receive more information on this topic or another parenting issue, please contact our confidential, toll-free, statewide parent helpline at:
800-CHILDREN or 800CHILDREN@pcav.org.