We live in challenging times—more so when it comes to parenting. Of courses we want the best for our children and in the process, end up overindulging them and this can have long term consequences—and not of the good kind.
It’s a fact that childhood overindulgence leads to a sense of psychological entitlement. When parents overnurture children by doing things that their children ought to be doing for themselves, being too lenient, having no rules—in short, giving them too much, children assume they are entitled to everything they want. They get away with no chores, too much freedom and wrap the family around their little finger.
In fact, when these children grow up, their relationships suffer. They are more aggressive towards those who criticize them. In romantic relationships, they are less loyal and have a problem seeing things from their partner’s perspective.
What is the solution? Raising grateful children. The attitude of gratitude can be taught. Gratitude is learned gradually over the years. Usually children below 6 years of age say thanks only when prompted. The habit develops as they grow older and becomes spontaneous between the ages of 7 and 10.
Gratitude is transformative. It takes the focus away from ourselves. When we count our blessings rather than focus on what we don’t have, we are better people. We are more alert, attentive and energetic. We are more mindful.
David Bredehoft, author of “How much is too much: Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children–from Toddlers to Teens–in an Age of Overindulgence” remarks that entitlement and gratitude are two sides of the same coin. On one side we have entitlement, the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment and on the other side, gratitude: a feeling of thanks and appreciation. It’s a fabulous book . . . check it out here. (affiliate link)
When I read this superb book, which is about overindulgence and how it affects children and later surfaces as problems during adulthood—I had to sit and reflect: how well am I doing my job as a parent? Have I raised a grateful child?
I think I am a work in progress and wanted to talk about raising a grateful child.
So, while teaching children to say thank you, here are thirteen ways that parents can use to teach and raise a grateful child.
13 ways for Parents To Raise a Grateful Child
1. Walk the grateful talk
Children see, children do. Parents are children’s first role models. To raise a grateful child, you must be a grateful role model. Use every chance you get to show by example. Remember to be authentic—children are amazing at seeing through things.
2. Resist Overindulging Your Children
Not easy in this day and age of overindulgence. Children are also experts at extracting what they want—and make it very hard to refuse them. But learn to say no and resist buying everything your child wants. Don’t overnuture them. Set firm rules with reasonable consequences. Give them chores and teach them that everyone must contribute to the family. Be strict about this without feeling guilty. My Mom used the iron hand in velvet glove method when it came to these things. She showered me with love, but did not indulge me when it came to life lessons. I am eternally grateful to her for it.
3. Teach Them to Say “Thank You”
Almost every parent teaches her child to say Thank you from the moment the child recognizes people. It is best to teach this from a young age and continue until they say it without being nudged. This must become a habit. Another thing—they must mean it when they say thank you. Discourage that fake thank you when they don’t like something. Lip service is not a nice thing.
4. Keep on keeping on until they do
If there’s one thing in a parent’s life, it is this: they can tell their children to do something millions of times. This is meaningful only when the child actually listens. Habits are like that. They need constant reminders. When teaching children to say thank you or any other habit, it is necessary to constantly encourage, remind and nudge millions of times. Just telling them once or twice and expecting them to do it doesn’t work. Research suggests that to create a habit, it takes an average 66 days for adults. Imagine what it must be for a 4 or 5-year-old! A teenager? Whoa. It’s a long road that is well worth traveling!
5. Teach Respect and Politeness
Manners are non-negotiable. Insist on them. If your child is disrespectful or impolite, pull her up immediately and suggest a “rewind”. Do it right away or it will cost them in the long run. Nobody likes kids who are rude and disrespectful. Encourage them to say please, thank you, excuse me. Well-behaved and polite goes a long way.
6. Insist They Write Thank You Notes
To this day, I write thank you notes—by hand to my folks and friends. My Mom insisted that I did and it’s a habit. Get your children started on this habit of handwriting thank yous. Just one sentence per grade. Then send those notes out right away. For the very young ones, have them draw a picture with crayons. The recipient, perhaps a grandparent will treasure it. As they get older, let them continue doing this. Keep thank you cards ready to use. Perhaps you can make a family rule about gifts to grandchildren, nephews, nieces, etc. = that is – No, thank you. No more gifts.
My son still thanks me for everything—from food to anything I do for him.
7. Keep a Gratitude Journal
The power of gratitude is in writing it down. Make this a habit. Write down what you are grateful for and encourage your children to do the same. Be a role model and share what you wrote with them. Encourage them to maintain a gratitude journal. Watch their lives change!
When my son was very young, I started him off on keeping a Happiness Jar. Every time he felt happy about something, he would write it on a note and drop it in the jar. All of us buddied up. Just seeing it fill up was a mood-upper. And when we read out the notes once a week, pure joy!
8. When Your Child is feeling low
Have them list three things they are grateful for, right now. This moment. Insist on it. They’ll find it hard to stay focused on the negative when the positive is there on paper for them to see. My Mom taught me this and I’ve taught my son to do this.
9. Celebrate on a daily basis
Make it a point to celebrate every day things. It sets a positive tone. Do it when you sit down for dinner or whenever all of you sit together and catch up. Have each family member—both children and adults—share something nice—bit or small—they experienced today. Enjoy the feeling. And make it a daily habit.
10. Help Without Being Asked
Isn’t it wonderful when children help voluntarily, without being asked? How do you make this happen? First, share your expectation with your children. “Will you take the trash out when you notice it is full without being told to take it out?” And when your child does it, thank her. Say, “thank you for taking out the trash. I really appreciate your help. You make my life so much easier.” It’s an easy approach. What you stroke is what you get. My folks were experts at it. In our joint family of seven, every single one of them. Always encouraging, always lovingly getting things done. Always appreciating!
11. Learn To Pay All or Part of Your Way
Encourage your children to occasionally pay for all or part of something. This is a valuable lesson. It teaches them to earn what they want. I remember this time during my childhood when I wanted something—never mind what it was. I was too young to go to work but I was old enough to teach children in the lower grades. I offered tuitions. I had two students and taught them math and English. With the money I earned I not only bought what I wanted, but also contributed to the household expenses. I took responsibility for three things on the grocery list. We weren’t very well off at the time and this was much appreciated. I am grateful my Mom taught me this valuable lesson.
12. Encourage Them to Give Back
Encourage your children to give back, to pay it forward. Any gifts received—suggest donating to a cause or charity. They can identify welfare homes and support them. I remember the first time our son received a cash prize for academic performance. When I asked him what he wanted to do with it, he took a photo of it and then said that he would like to donate it to the welfare home we support regularly, as they needed to build medical funds. Subsequently, he has received three more cash awards, all of which went to charity.
I grew up in a thrifty family where budgets were tight. My Mom constantly encouraged me to pledge that when I began to earn, I would make lives better. Today, I donate all my blog earnings and part of my work income to charity. And it is a wonderful feeling when you bring happiness in others’ lives. Paying it forward can be in cash and in kind. Encourage children to donate the toys and books they no longer use.
13. Lead a Life of Service: Volunteer
Show your children, by example, how to lead a life of service. The best way to do this is by volunteering. Identify causes and organizations you want to be associated with. Then go donate your time. This can be a home for the elderly where you can go spend time talking to them—they yearn for company. It can be a home for kids where you teach them, donate your skills; you can serve food to the homeless. Be your children’s role model.
Each time I visited the welfare home near our place, I would take our son along. I know that he came back home a different person. Of course there were questions in his head—and we answered them—and made him understand that not everyone has the privilege of a comfortable home or a family in this world. And that those who did, must do their best for those who don’t. When we do it, it is enriching. We end up feeling grateful for what we have.
I personally think it is our duty to make sure we raise grateful children. It’s one of the best gifts we can give them. They grow into caring, loving adults.
Gratitude is Like Planting a Garden
Gratitude, just like a garden, starts with tilling the soil,
planting the seed, watering, fertilizing, and nurturing.
Then step back and watch as loveliness
grows all around you.