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How to Teach Thankfulness to Your Children How to Teach Thankfulness to Your Children
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How to Teach Thankfulness to Your Children

Insights & Ideas Team •  November 24, 2016 | Home and Family

Thankfulness is more than just teaching your child to be polite when someone gives him or her a gift. It is a trait that, when learned, can have a much larger impact on a child. Research shows that there are both physical and emotional benefits for people who are thankful. They experience things like stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, better sleep, higher levels of positive emotions and more joy and optimism.

Being thankful can also enhance a person’s ability to have healthy relationships. It can make you more helpful, generous, compassionate, forgiving and outgoing. It can also reduce things like envy, aggression and loneliness.

Children Need Your Help to Learn Thankfulness

Thankfulness is something that requires intentionality. It’s taught. Amy McCready, founder of and author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic – A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World, says, “Children are naturally very self-centered, but we can teach them to think beyond their own needs and wants.”

She adds that the hectic pace of life can sometimes push the topic of thankfulness aside, but it’s never too late to start. McCready says bringing thankfulness front and center for your children may be easier than you think. Here are her best tips to teach your children to be thankful:

Pre-School Children: McCready says, “This is the age at which children are beginning to be a little less egocentric, so it’s a great time to start teaching them to be thankful.” She adds that very young children will learn about thankfulness best by doing. Here are some ways to get them going.

  • When the child is given a gift, have him or her draw a thank-you picture. Young children may not be able to write a note yet, but they can certainly draw a nice colorful picture instead.
  • Read books about being thankful.
  • Role-play thankfulness. Use dolls or stuffed animals to practice “thankful conversations” with your kids. Create cues in those conversations that can transition to real life so that after a playdate, or when your child is given a gift, she is reminded to say "thank you" without being prompted.

Elementary School Children: At this age, McCready says children can have a little more ownership in how they show thankfulness. Consider these tips:

  • Personalize thank-you notes. A thank-you note from children in this age group is appropriate, but it doesn’t need to stop there. If your child likes cooking, let him bake cookies as a thank-you gift. If she is crafty, let her dream up a project. If he’s chatty, let him make a thank-you phone call. The concept of the thank you stays the same, but the method changes.
  • Begin serving in the home. Children in this age group can help fold laundry, dust, vacuum, rake leaves, water plants and more. McCready says when children help, they will feel like they can make a difference in their family. She says, “This will also help them appreciate not only what they have, but what others do for them.”
  • Begin neighborhood service projects. Children can pick up trash, help an elderly neighbor with yard work or shovel for the single mom down the street. Let them see that they can tangibly impact their immediate surroundings. McCready says, “These children are ready to have conversations about the idea of serving others. When we help other people, we learn to be more thankful for what we have.”

Your Estate Plan: Is a Trust Right for You?Middle and High School Children: By the time children reach this age group, they should reach another level of ownership in deciding how to show thankfulness. McCready says, “Their skill set is different now, so they can do some really fun and different things to express thankfulness.” Thank-you notes could turn into thank-you videos they film and edit themselves.

  • Send a daily thank-you text. Have your child pick anyone they know and take one minute to text that person a note about why they’re thankful for, or thinking about, him or her.
  • Serve at home in bigger ways. Children should now be able to take on higher-level tasks like making a meal or doing all of their own laundry. This builds on the idea that by contributing to the home, children learn to be thankful for what others do for them, not just what they have.
  • Step up neighborhood service. Encourage your teenager to offer to help by babysitting, tutoring, doing yard work, etc.—and be sure to do it for free. When they are done, talk about how others reacted to their efforts. Seeing others be thankful for something they had a hand in can go a long way in teaching them to express their own thankfulness when the time comes.
  • Serve an organization. McCready says actions like these allow for a change of conversation at home. You can talk to your children about how your family has more and is thankful for it, so you feel called to give back and to serve others in need. Allow older teenagers to choose a community organization they are passionate about and volunteer there once a month or create a fundraiser that can benefit e organization.

Making Thankfulness a Routine

If you’d like to build thankfulness in your children all year round, McCready says, “The key is to make thankfulness a routine and part of your family culture. That means parents role-modeling it and being willing to create family rituals that support thankfulness as a value.” At dinner, go around the table and have everyone list three things they’re thankful for. Once you get started, you may never look back. Here are a few more ideas.

  • Use a white board in your home where everyone can post things he or she is thankful for. Or use a fish bowl: Put thankful notes inside, and read them once a week as a group.
  • Complete a service project once a month. Take turns deciding whom and how to serve. On the drive home or in the days after you have served, reinforce the idea that when we serve others in need, it makes us more thankful for what we have. Ask them what they’re most thankful for.
  • Make do with less. Pick a period of time to go without something basic: air conditioning, cable or Netflix, or any other luxury so your family can feel truly thankful for it when it returns.

Raising thankful children doesn’t have to be tough, but it does require intentionality from parents and a commitment to establishing the concept as a value within your family unit. Hopefully you’ve found a few simple tips here to give you a great start on a thankful holiday season and beyond.

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