A selfish child. A rude child. A spoiled child.

What do these have in common?  A sense of entitlement instead of an attitude of gratitude.

How do we help our children be grateful and thankful?  There are a few key principles I would like to put forward.

  1.  Our own attitude.  Are we displaying thankfulness in our daily lives?  Are we appreciating the little things in life?  We are a role model for our children.  The way we act is the way our children will act.  If we are grateful, then our children will be.
  2. Politeness matters.  Two errors I often see are that the parent either tells the child continually what to say.  (“Say thank you to Aunt Martha.”  “Say please to the hairdresser.”) or, they don’t expect any manners at all.   Manners are an important part of the society we live in.   We want our children to be polite and say the appropriate things, but sometimes we parents can come across as nagging.  It is helpful to have a “little talk” before going to see Aunt Martha and reminding them of the expectations ahead of time.  Politeness is important.
  3. Stop over-indulging your child.  Part of the parent’s job is to know when the child has had enough – enough t.v. time, enough treats, enough sleepovers.  Enough!  Parents can and should tell their child when it is enough.  The needs of a child changes as they grow, and even on a daily basis.  Perhaps the child needs popsicles today due to tonsillitis, but not every day.  Sure, the child will get frustrated.  That’s a good thing (What?).  Life is full of frustrations for everyone.  Through tolerating a bit of frustration, a child will learn self-regulation.
  4. Discipline your child appropriately.  The parent’s job is to help the child figure out what is appropriate, good, true, and right.  The child does not automatically know these things.  Follow through with what you say.  Give choices.  Be firm. 
  5. Lighten up. Have fun doing little things with your child.  Play cars. Play Barbies (yes, even dads).  Go for a walk.  Spend at least half an hour playing and half an hour reading to your child every day. 

Some practical suggestions:

  1. Make a gratitude jar.  Decorate a jar with your child and once a week (or whenever you like) write down something that you appreciated.  Maybe a friend you saw, maybe a book you read, or maybe a beautiful sunrise.  Writing it down help us to remember. When I have done this, we would then spend New Years Eve reading them all aloud.  Magical!
  2. Make an activity list.  Or, what I call “boredom busters.”  These can be used during those times when the child does not know what else to do other than watch t.v. and you are too tired to think up new ideas.  Having a list of activities can be very helpful for you and the child.  It also puts the responsibility onto the child for entertaining themselves (I’ve often told my child that my job is not to entertain them, however, I will play a card game with them if they want me to).  It can be a simple list of free activities. Try it!
  3. Make a thankful tree.   This is similar to the gratitude jar, but it is more tangible and readily available for younger children.  The children can write or draw on paper leaves things that they are thankful for and decorate a paper tree on the wall with these leaves. 
  4. Thank you prayers.  Depending upon your own spirituality, you can incorporate a “thank you” prayer at night with your child.  Or, if you are not inclined to pray, you can include thankfulness in your child’s bedtime routine.   For example, each of you can state three things you are grateful for or thankful for today. 

Let’s instill an attitude of gratitude in our children.

Mary Stanwood

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