Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Forum: Teaching Gratitude

Following Blaine's birthday party this spring, we decided to use Sarah's darling idea of turning a photo into a postcard to make thank-you notes. We printed a bunch of copies of this darling picture from the party on our home printer and Blaine and I are now working on the messages.

It got me to thinking. And it got me and Em to talking. A lot. About gratitude.

How do we teach our children to be genuinely grateful?

Certainly reminding our children to say their 'thank you for dinner, Mom' is important. And teaching them to send thank you notes. And never letting them leave Grandma's without a hug and a kiss and a 'thanks for the fruit snacks and the fun!' But will doing those things help them develop true gratitude?

We live in a time in which children are surrounded by an abundance of toys, treats, and media teaching them to want more. How can we discourage entitlement and encourage them to feel gratitude for what they have?

So, to be clear, the forum today is not: "How do we help our children remember to say please and thank you?"

It is: "How do we teach our children to feel genuine gratitude? Not just to say it but to feel it?

Thanks for your input and happy weekend!
anne & em


Barb @ getupandplay said...

I think one of the keys is modeling truly gracious and grateful behavior.

I recently had a professor (of my last class of my English degree) who was the most gracious and giving teacher. After someone made a comment in class, she genuinely thanked them for adding to the discussion. It wasn't an off-hand "Thank you" but a true, heartfelt "Thank you for that insight."

Her manner has stayed with me. I've tried to be more gracious since then. I think that children learn from their parents' example just as much (if not more) than from their explicit instruction. (Since my baby is only 15 months, I don't have a data point to prove this yet...)

Kristyn said...

I love Barb's comment.

For the past couple years my husband and I have been keeping a gratitude journal. Every night we write down one (or sometimes more) things we're grateful for. I've loved it, and this post just made me realize I could do this with my kids! Talking it out loud with them each night, or actually writing it down would be fun - especially to look back on in the future with kids and all their crazy answers!

Bloom said...

This has been on my mind heavily lately. Some things I've been thinking:

* it is pretty easy to give a child everything he/she wants. childrens' needs are simple and usually inexpensive (relatively speaking). however, as children grow into teenagers and adults their wants become increasingly expensive and cannot be fulfilled so simply/inexpensively. My point is that on principle - children need to learn what it is like to delay their gratification. they need to be told "no." they need to learn how to manage themselves graciously in the face of disappointment (because this will be a frequent reality in their adult life). i think this all relates to gratitude because hopefully our children will be more appreciative of what they get, and thankful for what they have if they have to wait for it, earn it and prize it because they know they will not be indulged at every whim.

* another thing i've been thinking about is how to help my children recognize a sacrifice made on their behalf. (this is something i need to work on myself.) i think it's important to help young children recognize when another person has gone out of their way to care for them, give them a ride, cook for them, spend time, etc. Maybe by pointing it out to them verbally (?), "Wasn't it nice of Mimi to come get you and spend the afternoon with you? Didn't that make you feel special?" I would love to hear others' thoughts on this. Is this just something that has to evolve with time as children grow into a less selfish paradigm? Is it something we can help cultivate? A combination of both? (Probably.) I want to help my children have a grateful awareness of what other people are giving/sacrificing on their behalf - sometimes I feel clumsy/ill-equipped when it comes to actually doing it.

And lastly - sometimes I feel so stretched just getting through the day-to-day (what are we going to have for dinner? how am i going to keep things tidy? does everyone have matching shoes on?) that I forget about these deeper values that I want to instill in my children. I don't just want them clean and fed - I want them to be kind, caring, aware, grateful people -- those things take a lot of time and teaching. I really have to step back and evaluate what we are teaching (by precept and example) and be more mindful about what we're accomplishing in our parenting.

thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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Rae said...

I love what's been said about delaying grattitude, and modelling gracious behavior.

My son is three and a half, and we've had him repeat "thank you" since he was signing it. Now, some of our proudest moments are when he says it on his own. I think just starting the habit of saying it is important, and brings the attitude with it later.

Maria said...

Thank you for this! I'm a firm believer in kids learning from what they see. The best way for children to learn is to show them, hands on what it means to be graeful.

All the best,

Alanah said...

What a lovely post, my only child is 10 months old, but we are already saying please and thank you when applicable. I was taught to always be grateful and love that my parents were so consistent with me as I was growing up. My husband wasn't so lucky and it is something he can struggle with at times, and he understands how important it is to teach our son.

Miggy said...

I think the first thing to keep in mind is that while young children can learn about gratitude and we should definitely teach them to the best of our abilities, we really need to keep the bar low. At first. I'm trying really hard lately not to expect my 3 year old to act like an 8, 9, 10 year old. She's 3. She still doesn't have a true understanding of right or wrong and won't for a number of years, so I think it's important to keep that in mind. Additionally, gratitude is something that most adults are still working I just think we need to be patient with ourselves and our young'uns.

Next, I think what someone said about delayed gratification is key. When I discovered that I'm not really entitled to anything I think that makes me feel more grateful for what I do have. I think kids must learn the same lesson and not simply be given everything their hearts desire.

Amy Jean said...

just example. we tend to be complainers. if we are going to count our blessings, we should do it out loud. kids know if you're sincere about something and tend to be the same way. good forum.

Brenna said...

This doesn't have anything to do with being grateful... But is that a train cake in the photo? If so, I would love a tutorial! That cake is adorable! Just an idea for a future post!