Gratitude is Taught Through Example, Not Just Expectation

The number 1 frustration I hear from parents at this time of year, is that they feel their children are not showing gratitude. They throw out terms like spoilt, bored, selfish and ungrateful when talking about asking for and receiving gifts. Let’s look at this realistically.

In December, children are constantly being bombarded with images from media telling them what they should ask for. Parents, relatives and friends are asking what they want for holiday gifts. They are even writing letters to Santa in school as a part of their English lessons. People focus so much on the perfect holiday experience. Often this means spending money and giving gifts. We are asking our children to regularly focus on what they want and then becoming frustrated when they are regularly focusing on what they want. When you take a step back and really thing about it, our expectations of output do not match our expectations of input.

I am not condoning or criticising how anyone chooses to spend the holidays. Instead, let’s look at adding to your festive season. Here are 5 ways to help your child demonstrate gratitude and learn this skill.

The 12 Days of Thank You

There are many people in our everyday lives whose job it is to make our lives better. These include: public servants, receptionists, shop keepers etc. Their lives become much busier over the month of December. What would it be like to give them a thank you for their efforts? Take mince pies into the post office to say thanks for working late. Write a thank you card to the town council for the lovely lights they put up. Doing this with our children opens up their awareness of how society works together for the betterment of each other.
It also allows them to build the skill and value of appreciation of hard work and effort.

Have Children Help Cook

From large family meals to quick supper before football practice, eating is a part of our daily experience. How hard is it when you put in effort for a meal only to be greeted with complaints. Instead, make them a part of it. Let them see how much time it takes to cut the carrots, bake the bread or mix ingredients. There are several benefits to this. Practically, they are learning life skills. They also have more buy in to eat food that they have helped to prepare (less complaining). On a deeper level, they are learning that food does not materialise from nowhere. They see the process, which helps them to appreciate the time investment it takes on someone else’s part to make sure they are fed. If we talk about the process whilst doing it, we can show them why their gratitude is warranted.

Practice Receiving

There are few things more horrifying as a parent than when a child opens a gift and expresses their dislike of it in front of the giver. However, how can we expect them to react differently when they have not been taught. Take a few minutes and talk about the socially appropriate ways we have for receiving gifts that do not fit our tastes. Practice it through role play. That way, our children are prepared to meet the challenge should it arise.

Use Descriptive Praise When Gratitude is Demonstrated

Children express gratitude in many ways. It could be through facial expressions, hugs or words. When your child shows appreciation, notice it and name it. Help them build their vocabulary of gratitude by using descriptive praise. Saying something like, “I noticed the way you hugged your dad when he brought home pizza for supper. That shows me that you wanted to give him a big ‘Thank You’ for bringing this special treat.” This way, you are acknowledging their physical appreciation and adding to it with words. You are showing them that gratitude is a value they have.

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