As parents, we spend years encouraging, reminding and prodding our kids to say “thank you.” Usually, we start with a small nod, then a gentle nudge of “What do you say?” and finally we just come out and ominously growl the obvious — “You need to say thank you.”
Our precious offspring then take one of several options to respond to our command. They may rise up and offer the necessary “thank you,” or they may mumble a barely discernible “thanks” under their breath, or (in what always makes a parent burst with pride) our little angels may flatly refuse to offer any expression of gratitude at all.
At that point, most of us begin pulling a cover up equal to the X-files. “Our precious really loves your gift and they appreciate it so much, but they are tired/not feeling well/over-stimulated/hungry/the sun is in their eyes…” You get the idea. We don’t want our kids to be thought of as ungrateful or — worse yet — too spoiled to appreciate what they are given.
So, how do we raise kids who not only say “thank you” without encouragement, but actually appreciate the things they have, gifts they receive, and things that people do for them? Well believe it or not, that happens not when they are having gifts lavished on them, but as part of a lifelong ongoing focus on genuine, heartfelt gratitude.
I can imagine what you are thinking: None of us are currently looking for another area to focus on. We are just trying to get through the day. And what exactly does it look like to truly focus on gratitude anyway?
Refocusing on gratitude is not hard, and in fact, it is beneficial to our health and overall well-being.
Here are some tips to help get your family started living a gratitude-focused lifestyle:
- Set a good example. Say “thank you” to your partner and kids for all the little and big things they do for you. Thank people who hold the door for you, people who serve you at the drive thru, grocery check-out clerks, anyone and everyone who helps you in big or small ways.
- Make it a practice to include a “gratitude minute” in your daily routine. As you sit down to dinner or put your kids to bed, have each person share one or two things they are thankful for. Try not repeat the same things — coming up with new things each day forces us to look more closely and see things that may normally be taken for granted.
- Write the thank you note. I know, it’s practically Victorian behavior, but handwritten thank you notes are especially important in a world where personal relationships often take a back seat to screen time. Starting this before your kids are even old enough to actually write establishes a habit that will become automatic to them. If someone gives a gift or shares their time, the least you can do is spend some time and effort acknowledging it.
- Stop the comparison game. If you focus on looking at what other people have, you are going to find other people have things you don’t. When that happens, it’s easy to forget that you have things that many other people don’t have. There is no way to win at this, so just don’t play!
Gratitude is truly a life-changing behavior. Appreciating what we have, the people in our lives and the opportunities available to us is beneficial to our health, makes us better friends, and improves the overall quality of our life.
As we move into the calendar gap between Halloween and the winter holidays, the abundance of gifts received and family members encountered begins to skyrocket. We are bombarded with presents from relatives and friends, and it’s easy to take their generosity for granted. Take this month of Thanksgiving to truly begin giving thanks.
While we all want our children to be quick with a “thank you,” the real goal is to raise kids who aren’t expressing thanks because they are told to, but because they have been taught to appreciate the people and things in their life. Once they master that, the “thank you” will be automatic and from the heart.