With the turkey picked clean to the bone, and Christmas one more day closer, I thought it might be a good time to look at the word “thankful.” By definition, thankful means to show appreciation, and gratitude, but children rarely understand how to do that.
Teaching a child to be appreciative can be challenging because they don’t understand concepts like finances, money, and all the other things that make a person need to be grateful.
So how can I teach my ungrateful child to be more grateful for things?
I’m Grateful Basket
1. Grab a small basket from your nearest dollar store.
2. Have your children help you decorate the basket.
3. Once you’ve finished with decorations, place the basket somewhere easily accessible. (Preferably somewhere you’ll see it and be reminded to do it!)
While your child is decorating the basket, because it’s easier to get their attention when they’re engaged in an activity with you, talk about gratitude and being thankful. Give them examples of things you can be appreciative for. Then tell them every time they do something that you’re grateful for you’re going to write it down and put it in the basket. Invite them to do the same (you might have to help them).
This is a wonderful way to introduce examples of gratitude. Children typically learn quicker when given visual examples, and this allows you to do that. Over time, they will see the type of things you’re writing down, and begin to understand the concept behind gratitude.
Thankful Meal Times
A great way to introduce thankfulness into a child’s life early on is to pray during meals. Being thankful to god, and expressing it, will teach children the basic idea behind gratitude. However, even families who do not say grace at the table may still take advantage of this teaching moment.
Choose a meal (it’s best if you pick the least stressful mealtime in your home) and assign each member of the household a job. Someone may help with cooking, while others could set the table, or get drinks. Once everyone sits down, and before eating, go around the table and ask that each one expresses their gratitude to someone for what they did.
You might say, “I’m appreciative Jenny set the table, so that we had things to eat with, Thank you,” and someone else could follow with “I’m grateful Mom cooked so we had food to eat, Thank you.” Since everyone had a job, everyone should have someone to say thank you to. You might be surprised how creative your children will get once they understand the concept of gratitude.
Sometimes teaching children can be done with simple everyday items, and requires almost no work at all. Grab a dry-erase board from your local dollar store, and hang it somewhere that can be seen easily every day. Take a few minutes each morning and gather everyone together at the board. Then write down one thing you’re all grateful for today.
Do this each day, and try not to repeat yourselves. It doesn’t have to be a grand statement, and can be something as simple as being thankful someone invented toilet paper (which is a good example of how this can be a funny family moment each day as well).
Do you have a specific time when things start winding down in your home, and everyone spends some quality time together? You can use this to your advantage. For example, if your family watches T.V together at night, you might try this activity then. Look at one of your family members and tell them, “thank you” for something they did today. Perhaps they said something that cheered you up, or made you laugh? Maybe your younger child picked up their toys without being asked to? Then they can do the same with another family member.
This takes only a few minutes, but can show children how expressing your gratitude for something another person did for you can make that person feel appreciated.
Thank You Sign
You can grab wooden signs at most any hobby shop, and decorate them anyway you choose. Find a small sign you can hang on a door knob. Explain to your children that every time they’re caught doing something nice for someone else, they get to hang the thank you sign on their door. Alternatively, if one of them is thankful to another in the home, they can hang the sign on their door. It’s a cute way to teach gratitude, and you’ll be surprised how hard they’ll work to be the owner of the sign.
Parents can find many ways to slip teachable moments into everyday life. When you make it fun and easy children will respond better. There are countless variations of the ideas above, but they all hold the same basic principles.