7 Tips for Teaching Children Gratitude
1. Make it a daily ritual. Don’t make the mistake of limiting gratitude to a once-per-year experience for your child. Making thankfulness a part of your regular routine gets your child thinking about the things she loves most about her life. It doesn’t have to take much time: Simply writing in a gratitude journal (or drawing if your little Picasso prefers) or thinking up three things to be grateful for around the dinner table can make being thankful a habit, rather than a holiday tradition. 2. Model the behavior. Good luck with teaching children gratitude if you never say thanks yourself. Children learn what they see, so if you’re snippy with the store cashier or expect your partner to wash the dishes, your little one could learn that saying thanks isn’t much of a priority for you—or her. As parenting expert Jen Hancock notes, “Kids learn through imitation. You model the behavior you want. This is just how polite interactions occur.” This means making sure that you always say thank you, whether you’re at the store or at home.3. Flip a complaint. Ungrateful kids always think they have the short end of the stick, complaining about what they don’t have instead of appreciating what they do have. If you catch your little one whining about something, stop the words and ask her to flip the complaint upside-down to come up with a gratitude statement instead. For instance, if your child is complaining that her playmate has better Barbies, have her flip the complaint and find a toy that she‘s grateful for instead. Or, if she whines about having to go to kindergarten, talk about how awesome it is that she gets to go to school and learn. It’ll give your constant complainer a new way of seeing things. 4. Volunteer. Psychologist Dana Klisanin suggests volunteering to cure what ails your ungrateful child. “One way to teach children gratitude at the most basic level is by volunteering at soup kitchens, shelters, orphanages, nursing homes and letting your child work alongside you whenever possible,” she notes. “When children experience the gratitude of others for basic necessities such as food, shelter and companionship, they are more likely to recognize and be grateful for these things in their own lives. This is ‘foundational gratitude’ (gratitude for basic needs)—you can think of it as Gratitude 101.” Call your local city office building and ask for volunteer opportunities appropriate for kids.
5. Define “need” and “want.” When your kid gets a case of the gimmes, it’s probably because she’s forgetting the differences between a need and want. It’s the ideal time to start a conversation on the things you’re required to provide her and the things that are fun little extras. Try this exercise together: Create a posterboard with two sections labeled “Wants” and “Needs.” Then, page through a magazine together and cut out objects, gluing them to the correct side of the board. It’s a quick exercise in reminding your child which things she can’t take for granted.
6. Refuse to respond. Forget asking politely: An ungrateful kid might make demands like a king to a servant. But just because you’re being ordered around doesn’t mean you have to obey. If your child is getting a little big for her britches, simply refuse to respond until she asks nicely. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, and it helps your child learn that she’ll get a better response with “Please” and “Thank you” instead of “I want this now!”
7. Save up. Okay, we get it. Spoiling the adorable light of your life is just fun, especially when you get to see the look on her face when you present her with something she’s been dying for. But always giving up the goods might have you missing out on an important teaching moment. Instead of simply spoiling your child, spoil with a purpose. If she’s begging for the latest Disney princess doll, set a monetary goal and ask that she work toward it. If you’re feeling really generous, offer to match her contributions. Then, have her do jobs around the house to earn the money. When she purchases something that she earned herself, she’ll be way more grateful than if you’d simply brought it home from the store, no questions asked.
By making gratitude a serious priority in your house, you teach your child that a gimme attitude simply isn’t tolerated. Model a grateful attitude when you go about your day and make sure that your child sees you showing that gratitude. That way, you set the example that being thankful is a year-round kind of thing … not just for November.