With Thanksgiving around the corner and Christmas shortly thereafter, your child will hear a lot about being thankful and will be on the receiving end of lots of new treasures and attention. Teaching your child about gratitude and appreciating people and material things is not as easy as it seems. Your child might say, "Thank you" when they receive a gift because that is what you have taught him, but how do you know if he is truly thankful? The answer is, you likely won't. It is not until children have gotten to a stage in development whereby they can truly empathize and understand the sacrifice that another gives to share something of themselves. Genuine gratitude comes from the inside and is about much more than "please" and "thank you."
Follow these tips to help foster gratefulness in your child:
1. Model gratitude. When you feel thankful about something, whether it is an experience, moment in time, or about a gift, share your feelings with your child. Provide details about what you are feeling, such as, "Mommy just realized how happy she is that we get to spend the whole day together. I am really thankful that we have this time to share. These feelings make me want to smile and even tear up in a good way. Sometimes people cry even when they are happy."
2. Focus on why you are grateful. It is more powerful to know that you are grateful for the rainy day because that means you get to snuggle inside and watch movies than to simply know you are grateful for rain. Rather than simply stating that you are grateful for the new slippers you got as a gift, share how you are appreciative that grandma thought that slippers would be a nice gift for you because she knows your feet are always cold. She remembered something about you and that is why it is special. Focusing on the thought behind a gift can make it more about the giving than the object. Be specific when talking to your child about being thankful for things.
3. Make a game out of gratitude. It can be a nice tradition to have each family member state what they are grateful for on a holiday such as Thanksgiving. Turning it into a game anytime (while waiting for the Dr., driving in the car, etc.) shows your child how many little things there are to appreciate and that being grateful doesn't always have to be serious.
4. Be grateful about things that aren't always positive. You could use the rainy day example above or could talk about gratitude with something more serious such as a car accident. Tell your chid you are grateful that more people weren't hurt and that you are thankful the roads weren't icy so the accident was not as bad as it could have been. Try to find a positive spin on even the negative experiences in life. This way of thinking is a gift you can give your child as well as a gift for yourself. We can only control how we react to the things that happen to us and individuals that can see the bright side of things are happier and healthier.
5. Help your child be giving. Your child will learn what is like to be appreciated when she learns how to give of herself. Volunteer with your child at a soup kitchen around the holidays to help those that are not as fortunate, have your child donate her old toys and clothes to needy families, walk dogs at the local shelter, etc. The feeling your child will get from helping others and having others be grateful for her help will continue the cognitive loop and understanding of gratitude.
Jessica Martin, Ed.S., NCSP
RVA School Psychologist/Director of Special Education & Student Services