How to Raise a Happy, Cooperative Child

Parenting Strategies for All Ages

Teaching Kids to Be Grateful

Acknowledging and cherishing what you have helps kids to have happier lives.

Thanksgiving is a great time of year to teach your kids about being thankful. As a parent, you may often feel upset because your children do not seem to show gratitude for what they have. But it is important for you to understand that appreciation is an abstract concept, especially for young children. They are not so far from being babies, who by nature are focused on their desires and needs for their survival. With your guidance, as your children grow, they can develop the ability to value what they have. It is actually beneficial for kids to be able to do this for reasons other than building their character. Acknowledging and cherishing what you have, helps children to feel fulfilled and have happier lives. It also helps your kids to to develop empathy for those who have less than they do. Here are some tips on how to teach kids to be grateful during the holiday and all year long.

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Read books with your child about the origin of Thanksgiving and act out the story. As kids talk about the story and act out the different characters, they gain a more concrete understanding of what it means to celebrate what you have. It also gives the holiday more meaning than simply a family dinner.

Include your child in holiday preparations. Even a young child can make colorful place mats or small turkeys for the table. Your child can also help you to prepare a salad or a holiday treat. In this way, she will learn that giving to the family, is a way of showing appreciation.

At the Thanksgiving dinner go around the table and have each person say what he feels grateful about. You can make this a regular family tradition during the year, as well.

Sharing what you have, is also a powerful way to show you are grateful for your bounty. Have your family take part in a food drive or prepare some holiday dishes and bring them to a homeless shelter on Thanksgiving morning.

Make sure that family members always thank each other for nice gestures. You might even encourage your child to make a drawing or a card to show her appreciation. Children learn most from the way family members treat each other. If the family routinely shows gratitude, so will your child.

If a neighbor compliments your child on the street and he does not thank him, step in and say, “Thank you.” Modeling the behavior will help him to arrive at this choice much more effectively than trying to force him to respond.

When you tuck your child in bed at night, talk with her about the things that made her feel happy that day. Your child will go to bed with a good feeling about her life.

Keep in mind that as you try to teach your child values, it will take a great deal of patience. Your wish for certain behavior will not magically occur after you instruct your child once. Your child may get the gist of your explanation, but be unable to act on it right away. He will learn your values by hearing your message and watching you over time. Gradually, as his cognitive and emotional abilities develop, he will internalize your values and behave in a way that will make you proud. 

 

Meri Wallace, LCSW, is a parenting expert and child and family therapist.

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