“Charity begins at home.”
Sir Thomas Browne, 1642
At times it may seem that children today are more materialistic than children from an earlier generation and that they have come to expect more and more rather than feeling grateful for what they already have. The Thanksgiving holiday and all its bounty may magnify this feeling. But research shows that gratitude can be nurtured and taught. Since parents are the child’s first teachers as well as most important role models here are some tips:
- Gratitude and thankfulness are traits children have to develop. Don’t expect too much of your children at first but don’t give up – they have to grow into altruism. Claire Lerner, child development expert says, “Raising a grateful child is an ongoing process.”
- Express out loud in front of your children your gratitude for the things in life that you may take for granted like running water, electricity, etc. No need to sermonize – your children may tune you out – just try to be aware of life’s pleasures and mention them.
- Teach your children to say thank you for favors that people have done for them or for gifts they have received. If they are very young they could draw a picture of thanks and send it. If they are older they can write a thank you note or make a thank-you phone call. And let your children hear you say thank you to the grocery clerk, a waiter, the mail carrier, etc.
- In an age-appropriate way, expose your children to those less fortunate.
- Be a good steward of the earth – reduce, reuse, recycle.
- There’s a difference between gratitude and guilt – the old “clean your plate because of the starving kids in China” may teach guilt instead of gratitude. Teaching your children that taking action to help others helps reduce guilt and build empathy, compassion, and gratitude.
- Point out when your children do something generous for others or let them overhear you telling another adult what they have done to help.
- While involving your kids when you help neighbors, family members or friends, keep “life balance” in mind. You want your children to learn that they need to care for themselves in order to care for others.
These may seem like small actions to take but our children really do learn more by what we do than by what we say. Being a good example sometimes has more value than giving good advice.
By Claire Gawinowicz, Certified Parenting Educator