If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice. – Meister Eckhart
On this weekend before Thanksgiving, I’m giving a lot of thought to the concept of gratitude and thinking of all the things that I am truly grateful for. And I’m thinking of the ways we can convey this concept to young children, who are by nature egocentric beings. It is our role to help kids cultivate and experience feelings of thanks and gratitude, which are so important in allowing them to feel empathy and concern for the well-being of others. So how do we do this?
First and foremost: By modelling and expressing our own open-hearted thanks, not just on one day of the year, but every day. Create a daily ritual where we name something that we are thankful for. Dinner is an amazing opportunity to do this and it can give way to some rich table time conversations. Bedtime is another opportunity, leaving children to drift off to sleep with thoughts of blessings and grace. It’s ok if they name material things that they are grateful for. You can model your sense of thanks for things like generosity, kindness, patience, etc. Kids will pick up on this and eventually express it themselves.
Let children know all the ways you feel grateful throughout the day. “I am so lucky to have such helpful kids.” “I’m really grateful to our neighbor for feeding the kitty while we were gone this weekend.”
Thank your kids for the ways they help out…and be specific. “Thank you for putting your shoes in your room the first time mommy asked you to. It was really helpful and felt good to have to ask only once.” And remind them to thank each other. “Did you say thank you to Henry for sharing his blocks with you? That was really kind of him.”
Demonstrate the spirit of helping others. You can keep it simple…Take the trash out or shovel snow for an elderly neighbor. Or take it to the next level…Have them pick out old toys, clothes or books to donate to a shelter or organization. Participate in a food drive. Volunteer as a family baking cookies or a meal for children who are hospitalized. And use these deeds as opportunities to talk about all that we are fortunate to have–from food and a warm home to our precious bodies.
The thing to remember is that young children are egocentric beings–they see and experience the world through their own eyes. And gratitude is not a trait that comes naturally to them–it is learned through positive experiences and reinforcement. So give gentle reminders and lots of reinforcement, but be patient. Children don’t genuinely integrate ways of being when they are forced. Cultivating an authentic sense of gratitude takes time but will have tremendous rewards for both you and your children.
Happy Thanksgiving and many blessings.