We have all told our children, “Remember to say ‘thank you.’” Or, blurted out the knee jerk response when our child receives a gift, “What do you say? Say ‘thank you!’” As parents of young children we daily model, encourage, and prompt our children to say “thank you” with hopes that the giver will see our children as gracious. Nonetheless, does our 18 to 24 month old really understand what giving and being thankful means? Or, is it possible that they have only been conditioned to say “thank you” because they’ve figured out that the magic two-word statement triggers a positive response from mom or dad as well as the giver?
Regardless if the ‘thank you’ response is a conditioned response, it’s still a wonderful starting point to be at when teaching young children how to be grateful and show thankfulness. Besides continually prompting children with, “What do you say?” there are some other genuine ways that we can help them understand the “feel goodness” of doing kind gestures for others and showing appreciation.
- Model, model, model. Our children see us as the center of their world and will follow our lead in modeling gracious behavior. We, too, need to remember to say “thank you” and allow them to see us showing acts of kindness to others. It’s also important to not just show thankfulness towards receiving actual gifts but also towards positive behavior. “Thank you for keeping your hand on the cart when we are shopping. It helps me know that your close by.” Modeling also includes writing thank you notes or drawing thank you pictures. Consider putting together a little box with readily available items for thank you cards/pictures. Include simple items like crayons, markers, pencils, blank cards, stamps, stickers, envelopes, etc. Call it a Thank You Tote and it will make writing/drawing thank you’s much easier and convenient.
- Keep gifts reasonable. Zero to Three recommends not overwhelming children with gifts. For young children it becomes difficult to appreciate what is in front of them if there is an endless supply of toys or if children receive gifts on demand. Bottom line, be cautious of overindulging children at a young age. Yes, this means we have to practice saying, “No.”
- Read books about being thankful. Use the pictures to start a conversation about feelings of gratitude and graciousness. Some recommended books include Biscuit Is Thankful by Alyssa Satin Capucilli and Pat Schories, Little Critter: Just So Thankful by Mercer Mayer, Feeling Thankful by Shelly Rotner, I’m Thankful Each Day by P.K. Hallninan, and All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan
- For older preschoolers try to avoid comparison comments such as, “I’m sure there are other kids who’d be happy to have what you have!” Statements like these are more likely to lead to guilty feelings versus feelings of gratefulness. Instead, steer the conversation towards the bigger picture of the “gesture behind the gift” vesus the gift itself. For example, “I can see by your face that the yellow car Aunt Sue got you was not the one you were hoping for. I know that yellow is Aunt Sue’s favorite color, so she must have picked the yellow car because that color means so much that she chose it for you.” As parents, situations like this can often catch us off guard. However, with some patience, appropriate modeling, and thoughtfulness we can help children see the the silver lining in any gesture and/or gift.
- Encourage generosity. Routinely donate items or food to others in need. When children see you wanting to give to those who in need, it will slowly trigger questions as to why you are donating. This will lead to a conversation about how helping others is a win-win situation all around. Depending on the age your child, get involved with local community organizations, church groups, or food pantries. Every little bit helps and organizations could use support even from the smallest hands in our community.
The Parenting Hub would love to hear about ways you help instill thankfulness and appreciation in your young children. Please send your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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