Two simple words, yet they mean so much.
When said with warmth, sincerity and integrity, they communicate love and appreciation.
Yet when said with sarcasm and guilt, they leave you feeling worse than you did before.
Ironically, these are also some of the first words we teach our children to respond with.
In fact, we taught our kids to sign “thank you” before they could even speak. So while they know when to say it, I can’t say it’s always filled with those aforementioned emotions of sincerity. And the truth is, when our children are young, they usually respond with it after we gently nudge them or give them that look (you know which look I mean, parents).
And while I’d agree that it’s important for our kids to express gratitude even before they exactly know why they’re doing it, I’d say it’s equally important for us to work on instilling the principle of gratitude within our children each and every day. We don’t simply want the concept of gratitude to understood, but instead to be something they embrace daily, especially as they get older and move out from under our roof.
So how do we do that as parents?
Perhaps I can help you more with what I’ve learned NOT to do rather than simply giving you a list of foolproof ideas of what’s worked with my kids (because after all, there is no such thing since every child is different on any given day). And to be honest, I may have learned more from my failures as a parent than I have from what I’ve done well.
So with that, I give you 3 ways guaranteed to steal gratitude from your kids:
Have you ever made your children clean their plates by telling them about how may starving children there are in Africa? Guilt may elicit temporary obedience, but it is not the answer for instilling long term gratitude in our children.
Where guilt makes our children believe they have done something wrong, shame tells them that there is something wrong inside of them. Beating our children down is one of the worst things we could do to their young spirits and typically starts a chain reaction of them duplicating that same behavior with their friends and classmates to make themselves feel better.
My husband and I were no strangers to telling our kids how “frustrated” we were with their selfishness, until our counselor pointed out it wasn’t their behavior that was the problem, it was our own anger (and “frustrated” was just a code word and cover up for that ugly emotion). As parents, we need to first recognize our own emotions before we begin to project them onto our kids.
So now that you know what not to do, you may be wondering what to do. Well, the one piece of advice I can give you is this: practice gratitude daily.
That’s right, gratitude must be cultivated…and it must be done daily. Start by asking your kids what they’re grateful for before school. Leave a note in their backpack about something you’re grateful for involving them. Finish your evening by gathering together as a family before bed and reflecting on something each of you were grateful for that day.
Perhaps one of the most powerful practices of gratitude is helping your kids find something to be grateful for in the midst of difficulty, sorrow or loss. The beautiful thing is once they put this into practice with you over the years, they will eventually cultivate a habit of their own.
As I mentioned earlier, the sooner you can start practicing gratitude with your kids, the better. And what better way to teach little ones to count than learning about God’s blessings? In the board book Count My Blessings 1-2-3, kids will be led to count to ten with Mom and Dad as they see the many different ways God blesses them: with food, clothes, a house, a loving Mommy and Daddy, and more! And this “fit-together” board book features bold, colorful cut-outs on each spread that showcase the blessings in a fun, dynamic way.
So whether you’re starting to put this into practice with your baby or teenager, remember one thing: it starts with you. Helping your kids practice daily gratitude begins by making sure you’re not stealing gratitude from your kids with your own attitude. And of course, making sure you root your day in the one to whom we owe our ultimate gratitude, Jesus Christ.
How do you teach your children about gratitude on a daily basis?