How do you help your child learn to be grateful?

It can be challenging to teach your child gratitude in a world of “instant gratification”. As parents and even grandparents, we sometimes find it difficult to say no to a child when they ask for something, despite knowing the novelty of that item will be lost very quickly. Telling a child no to their request to buy something or go somewhere every now and then will help them appreciate the yes times much more.

Toddlers are naturally self-centered, but by 2 or 3 years old they can verbalize about what they are grateful for. They are watching everyone around them, especially adults. If they see the adults in their lives using “please and thank you,” they will learn to mimic this behavior. Work gratitude into conversation with children. Parents can use simple terms to explain their thankfulness. “I loved that hug; it made me feel so cozy”. “I loved that you picked up your toys, you made our house so pretty”. Many families use dinnertime to talk about what they are grateful for each evening with their children.

Encourage your child to be generous. The holidays are a perfect time to talk about thankfulness and being grateful. Choose a goodwill project that your child can help with. They could collect some of their toys to donate to a child through a church or other organization. Filling a shoebox with fun art supplies and wrapping it up to give to a child, is a wonderful way for a child to learn sharing of treasures and empathy to others. Small acts of kindness are a great way for children to share with others how they are grateful. They could leave a little note or picture (younger child) for a sibling or classmate, thanking them for being nice to them or helping with a chore. You may notice that a child will be happy with themselves which will also help to enhance their self esteem.

Lastly, writing thank you notes as soon as they can scribble is a great way to encourage gratefulness. This small task teaches the importance of showing gratitude to those who think of you on special occasions and the importance of showing that person your appreciation. Good manners and respect for others can be a wonderful lasting result of teaching your child gratefulness!

Cathy Stange, CPNP at Alaska Center for Pediatrics