Can a child be taught to be more grateful?
How many of you have gone through this: Your little one pines away for a certain toy. Every time you pass a toy store at the shopping mall or if bub sees THAT toy in a catalogue, magazine, etc, you will have to contend with pitiful pleas and cries. Then, convinced that nothing would please your little darling more, you give in and get the toy. Happily, you think to yourself about how happy and elated you child will be when he or she receives it. You were probably right, for your little one WOULD be thrilled, at least for a little while! Before long, in a typical case scenario, that toy would by shelved away to collect dust somewhere while junior begins the cycle all over again, this time with something else that caught his or her fancy.
After a few of these cycles, at some point, some parents would start to be concerned about their offspring’s attitude, recognising the need to instil the virtues of appreciation into their kid before its too late. However, some parents, sadly, fail to see anything wrong in giving in to their children’s whims and fancies. While some of these parents might argue that there’s nothing wrong with giving their kids “everything we never had when we were young”, just as many also feel that their children have the ‘right’ to have what others have, because, well, “…it’s not like we can’t afford it!”
Gratitude and thankfulness are the trickiest to instil into little children, who, most, by nature, are quite self-centred. However, they are important values to build into a child, for they can mean a difference between happy, contented children and whiny little ones who seem to be in perpetual states of insatiability. Kids who are not taught to be grateful end up feeling entitled to everything they wish for and are basically, difficult to please.
Indeed, instilling grateful feelings now will benefit your child later in life. A study at the University of California at Davis in the early 2000s showed that grateful people report higher levels of happiness and optimism – along with lower levels of depression and stress. The catch is, no one is born grateful! Recognising that someone has gone out of the way to do something nice for you does not occur naturally for children – it has to be taught.
Teaching Gratitude in the Early Years
When will a child get it?
Toddlers are, by definition, an egocentric group of little ones. However, it does not mean that they cannot be taught the art of appreciating, step by step! Children as young as 15 to 18 months can begin to grasp concepts that lead to gratitude. It begins when they start to understand that they are dependent; Mummy, Daddy and other family members do things for them. They know that they are separate human beings with limited abilities and others perform actions to please them. Play with them, carry them around, give them yummy snacks. They KNOW, hence they can be taught the basics of appreciation! Parents who openly show their appreciation for little gestures towards them are likely to raise appreciative children. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Children as young as two years old emulate what they see at home and if they are surrounded by people who never forget to say “thank you” or “that’s so nice of you!” pretty soon, that attitude can’t help but rub off on them, pure and simple!
If taught right and if they are brought up in favourable surroundings, by age 4, children can easily understand about being thankful not only for material things like toys but for acts of kindness, love and care given to them.
Teach them now!
Children watch and copy their family members in every way, so make sure you use “please” and “thank you” amongst yourselves and most importantly, when you talk to them. “Thanks for that hug, it made Mummy really happy!” or “How nice of you to help me get that” are not mere words to children. They’re lessons that are being absorbed into their minds as the way things should be and how they should behave! Insist on their using similar words, too. After all, you will find that good manners and gratitude overlap in one’s behaviour, old or young!
Work gratitude into your daily conversation.
If you haven’t been giving it much thought before this, try weaving appreciation for seemingly mundane things into your everyday conversations “We’re so lucky to have a kind Aunt like Aunty Anna”, or “Isn’t this soup delicious?“, or even “ I feel so happy when you listen to me!” When reinforced frequently enough, the ideas of showing gratitude and feeling thankful are more likely to stick. One old-fashioned, time-tested idea is to discuss “all the good things that happened today” as part of the dinnertime conversation. Try it!
Have kids help.
The following has happened to almost every one of us: We assign our little one a chore, but it’s too agonising to wait for them take forever to complete it, be it clearing the table or putting away their toys. In the end, the temptation to do it ourselves and be done with it always wins over. Here’s the thing: The more you do for them, the less they learn to appreciate your efforts. (Don’t you yourself feel more empathy for people who work outside on smouldering hot days when you’ve just been out there watering the plants or hanging out the clothes to dry?) By participating in seemingly mundane chores like feeding the pet, setting the table or sorting out the family laundry, kids realise that all these things Mummy or Daddy do for the family take effort.
Engage a goodwill project together. This does not mean you drag your toddler off to serve in a soup kitchen every week. Instead, there are many other ways a child can actively participate in helping someone else. It could be something as simple as baking a batch of cookies for a sick neighbour or relative. As you’re stirring the batter or adding the chocolate chips, try talking or explaining about why you’re making them for this special person and also how happy the recipient will be.
There are so many associations, homes and orphanages that could do with a little kindness from the public. You can begin by visiting one of these with a bag of goodies or cash. Take your child with you, explaining to him or her why you’re doing this: to help the less fortunate and to let them feel some happiness their lives. Let your child see you go through your closet for clothes to give away to those in need. Tell your child that no matter how much you like an item of clothing, you feel that someone else needs it more! It might inspire them to go through their own stuff and give something special to those in need as well!
The value of thank-you notes.
Familiarise your kids from a very young age with the concept of “Thank you” notes. Whenever your child receives a gift or if someone has done something nice for them, insist that the giver be sent a note of appreciation! If it’s from a toddler, the card or note can be just scribbles or doodles with your own thank-you attached. As your child grows older, their own efforts of better drawings and longer notes can be included. Young children can also ‘dictate’ a thank-you note while Mummy writes it down. Just the act of saying out loud why he or she loved the gift/gesture is capable of instilling the vibes of gratefulness!
Get used to the term “No”.
It’s rare if a child does not ask for toys, video games, cookies and candy sometimes on an hourly basis. Kids will be kids and they will not give up! However, do know that its difficult, if not impossible, to feel grateful for anything when your every whim is granted without fail. Besides, saying “no” more frequently makes “yes” that much sweeter.
Patience is also a virtue!
If you’re only just beginning to try to make little appreciative angels out of your demanding little ones, don’t expect great changes overnight as it requires weeks, months, even years of reinforcement. However, trust in yourself, for you will be rewarded! The key is to showcase your own appreciation for life and all the good things your family and you enjoy! Talk about them more often to your little one. By and by, they’ll get it!