As the holidays are quickly approaching I thought I’d take a moment and talk a little bit about being thankful. We as a community are fortunate than most; a roof over our head, food on the table. Many of us try to make sure that our families are not wanting for much. As adults we are thankful that we are able to provide our families with the latest electronic, fashion, or toy. I challenge you to take a minute and ask yourself, does my child come to expect these perks? Are they grateful for the things that they have? Gratitude and thankfulness go hand in hand. Why should a child be thankful for something if we don’t stop to take the time to show them what they have?
The definition of gratitude is the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. In order to instill these values into our children we need to make sure that we are allotting enough time to show them. You can’t expect children to understand the concepts of gratitude and thankfulness overnight. As I’ve told many parents you may not see the fruits of your labor in weeks, months, or in some cases years but if you are persistent and reinforce positive behaviors that day will come!
Children model their parents in almost every way. As adults we know to use “Thank You” as a form of showing good manners. Proper etiquette says when a gift is given to us or if someone does something nice for us we are supposed to show our thanks by saying thank you, or writing thank you cards. Of course we want our children to have good manners but wouldn’t we like them to intrinsically feel thankful? Kids generally have a greater grasp of the feelings behind thankfulness. They are much more spontaneous when giving out thanks because they are more sincere and enthusiastic. When you see their eyes light up and the smile across their face you truly know that they mean the words. Finding the balance between that feeling of thankfulness and showing good manners is what we all strive to teach our children.
Here are some simple steps that we can use to teach thankfulness to our kids.
1) Work gratitude into your daily conversation. When you reinforce an idea frequently it’s more likely to stick.
2) Have kids help. If you give your child a chore please, please let them complete the task. Let’s be honest, there is always a temptation to step in and do it yourself but the more you do for them, the less they appreciate your efforts.
3) Find a goodwill project. This doesn’t mean you have to help out in a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving. It simply means find something that you and your child can do to be selfless, whether it is to bring in the trash for an elderly neighbor or pick up homework for their friend who is sick.
4) Encourage generosity. The day care center has a community service project almost every month. This month we are donating new and gently used children’s books to those who don’t have books of their own. Sit with your child and go through some of your books and together decide what books you’re willing to donate.
5) Practice saying no to your child. It is impossible for a child to feel grateful if they have everything they’ve ever wanted.
6) Be patient. For many this will be the hardest thing to do. With our full schedules and rushing off to this or that activity. I can’t stress enough that positive reinforcement goes a lot further. As a good friend tells me often, “you catch a lot more bee’s with honey”.
Until next time…
Jaime Gonce has been working at Walnut Acres Children's Center for over 10 years and is now Director of the center. She has a masters in Child Counseling and attended San Diego State and California State University, East Bay.