Life goes better when we’re thankful. As adults we know that our child won’t always get exactly what they want – but it’s important to teach them to appreciate what they receive, what they have and be thankful for it!
Thankfulness doesn’t come naturally to children. For the most part, their worlds revolved around them. They can be trained to say "please" and "thank you" early on, but true thankfulness and generosity take time to seed and blossom.
Raising a thankful child is an ongoing process. As gift-giving season approaches, it’s a good time to examine this important subject. Here are some ideas:
1) When your child keeps a running -- and growing -- list of toys they have to have (and they’re up to 23 this season!)
- Let them make as long a list as they want, and don’t make them feel guilty for it – just let them know they’re only going to get a few of the items. This helps them have realistic expectations.
- Also think about having them make a second list (equal in number to the things they want to receive) of things or actions they’re willing to give. For example: 1) Clean their room, 2) Help you find a charity that the family can donate to, 3) Pitch in when Dad starts wrapping presents, 4) Make a holiday card.
- If you're in for belt-tightening this year, be honest - let them know. Say something like "We’re spending a little less this year. We'll have to wait until next year to go on vacation and we’ll hold off on getting the new bike you wanted." It's likely your kid will think "Okay, I can live with that."
Long-Term Strategy: Help them understand that gifts are thoughtful gestures, not just a way for them to score materialistic gain. Anytime they receive a present, point out everything the giver put into it. Do this enough times and they'll get the "quality, not quantity" idea before you know it.
2) When your 5-year-old grimaces at the stuffed Elmo her aunt gives her and says, "But I wanted a Barbie!"
- The concept of hiding negative feelings to protect someone else's is way too complex for kids five and under. Older kids get better and better, but will still have frequent slipups.
- You can validate your daughter’s feelings without criticizing by saing, "I know you wanted a Barbie, but let's think about all the ways we can play with Elmo."
- You might add, “It was so thoughtful of Auntie to get you a gift, wasn't it?”
Long-Term Strategy - Before any gift-getting occasion, prepare your child for the possibility that she may not like all her presents, but at the same time, let her know that it's still important to show her appreciation. Remind her that people put effort into trying to find her the best thing. Devise a special cue between the two of you that reminds her to say thank you. When you see her mouth turning down, you can clap your hands and say "Great present!" to snap her back into good-manners mode.
3) When you take them to the store and they whine for you to buy them something.
- Before any shopping trip, let them know why you’re going and engage them in the process. If you’re hitting the mall to buy Grandma’s gift, ask them what they think she’d like. Get them excited about buying for someone else.
- At the same time, make it clear that on this trip we won’t be buying anything for them. It’s only fair to give them advance warning.
Long-Term Strategy - Try to avoid spending all your family moments pushing a shopping cart. That way, your kids won't think acquiring stuff is the leisure-time norm. Think about heading to the library, an indoor pool, or a rock-climbing gym instead. Try to think of things you can do that don't involve hanging out in stores- have experiences that can be just as exciting as accumulating things (if not more).
4) At a playdate, when your 5-year-old gobble up the goldfish another mom gives him but won’t say thank you, even when you prompt him.
- Unless it’s obviously a willful act of disobedience, don’t turn this into a battle of wills. The fact that your son doesn't always say the words likely just means they haven't become a habit for him yet. A power struggle might actually impedes the process.
- So definitely remind your kids to give thanks, it's best not to make a big deal about it if it doesn't happen.
- You can say “thank you” for him – it’ll be a good example for him, and hopefully pacify the other mom.
Long-Term Strategy – Remember to consistently model grateful behavior yourself. In your own everyday interactions, always offer warm thank-yous and praise to grocery store clerks, gas-station attendants, waiters, teachers -- anyone who's helpful to you or him. You may think your child isn't paying attention to those small moments, but he is.
5) When you say no to something that "everyone at school" has, and your child complains they all have cooler stuff than she does.
- Sympathize with her frustration, but remind her that “everyone” probably doesn’t have it – there’s no greener grass. .
- Also remind her that many people don't have as much as she does. Begin a tradition of charity work and donating. Start simple: As young as age 3, children can be encouraged to go through their belongings and pick out items to donate. Every year after that, they can get more involved.
Long-Term Strategy Expose your kids to people from all walks of life, rather than shielding them from those who are less fortunate. It's important that kids know how blessed they are. The next time you see a homeless person ask, "Where do you think that man sleeps?" or "Can you imagine what it would be like not to have a home?" It gets your kids to put themselves in someone else's shoes and develop empathy.