How do we teach gratitude?
The best way to teach our kids anything is to live it. So when we want to teach gratitude, we model it. We take time to recognize what we
have (through conversations with them and also with others) and when we receive something, we are sure to thank the person and might even send a quick email or thank you card if that is something that your family believes in.
If this is something you aren’t yet doing in your parenting, but would like to, set aside some times to do it on a regular basis. Perhaps it is at the evening meal – expressing gratitude for the effort that went into preparing the meal, growing the food, setting the table. Initially, we can be responsible for giving thanks but as the routine becomes more familiar, we can suggest to other family members that they can (or are expected to) take a turn. Maybe there is a certain recurring event when you wish that your children expressed thanks to family members or guests. Think about relevant situations for your family and then, let our kids know the expectations through modelling and through clear instructions.
As an example; when heading to a soccer game, we might say, “Uncle Bill and Auntie Joan are coming to watch you today. What can you say when you see them to show your gratitude that they took time out of their schedules to see you?”
Or if visiting friends happen to bring a gift for our children, if the manners don’t present themselves, we can pull the children aside and ask them in the same way. Forcing a child to say thank you often ends up in a power struggle that embarasses everyone present so, if the whole thing is not working in the moment, we can also express thanks for the child, “Johnny is really pleased that you came to watch his game. Thanks so much.” Then leave it for the time being. After the fact or later that day/early the next day, we can say, “I was disappointed yesterday and I wanted to talk about manners and gratitude. I expected you to thank visitors for coming to cheer you on (or whatever the situation) but I guess that didn’t come up in your mind. In our family, we always thank friends and family for coming when they join us. What can you say the next time this happens?”
If the child is nervous about it, or doesn’t know what to say, we can work with them to come up with a script. And then, on the way to the event or when family members are arriving, we can mention -ok guys, remember your manners here. OR What do you need to say to be polite?
The kids could also give a quick phone call or email after the fact thanking the visitors for coming – they can learn and make amends when they have made a mistake. It really is a teaching process so have age-appropriate expectations and learn from mistakes that arise along the way. Bottom line, our kids really aren’t going to get it unless we model it, teach it, expect it and reinforce it.