little girl smilingWhen we gather around the holiday table with our friends, family and loved ones, we often take a moment to reflect on the year and talk about what we are thankful for. The holidays are a wonderful opportunity to start to teach your children about gratitude.

Gratitude is a very tricky concept for children — especially toddlers, who are egocentric by nature. By learning to be grateful, they develop other valuable skills as well (like empathy). But gratitude won’t happen overnight. Like most things, it takes lots of practice and reinforcement.

How to teach your children about gratitude

Here are some ways you can help your child develop a thoughtful and appreciative attitude:

  • Be a model: Children follow their parents’ lead. Try to fit a dash of appreciation into your daily conversation: “Isn’t this dinner delicious?” “I am so happy you put your toys away!” If your children are exposed to your gratitude regularly, it is more likely to rub off on them. You can also set aside a time of day, such as at dinner or right before bedtime, to talk about the things that made you happy that day.
  • Write it out: Thank-you notes are a great way to teach your children about being grateful for birthday and holiday gifts. Younger children can dictate what they want to say and then scribble their name or draw a picture. As your children get older, they can write more traditional thank-you messages. The act of writing or saying why they love a gift can help instill gratitude. Plus, grandma will love getting those cards in the mail!
  • Do good: Finding ways to help others and involve your children is a great way to demonstrate generosity. You can have your children go through old toys and clothing and donate them to a shelter. Even simple gestures, like having your child help you prepare food for a sick friend or neighbor, are very effective. While you are working on the project together, talk about how you are helping others who are less fortunate, and how grateful the recipient will be.
  • No is not a no-no: When children get everything they ask for, it is more difficult for them to develop a feeling of gratitude. Children ask for things on a regular basis — candy, video games, TV shows, toys — and they can make their request seem desperately urgent. But giving in will not make your child happier. Instead, he could grow up to feel entitled, and entitlement leads only to continuous disappointment. You are doing your child a favor by saying “no” regularly.
  • Learn how to earn: If your child has a big request for a toy or game he must have, you can ask him to work for the money to buy it. Find extra projects around the house in addition to his regular chores so he can put some money away. When he earns the money himself, he will appreciate his new plaything that much more.
  • Score with chores: Speaking of chores, having your kids put the dishes away, help prepare dinner, set the table, make the beds, take out the trash or feed the pets are all good ways to show them the value of work. A child who pitches in at home will understand the effort that goes into everyday activities. 

Contributed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello Jr., MD