Let’s get a few things cleared up right away. My kids are awesome. My kids are not angels. With that out in the open, I am proud of the fact that it seems like my partner and I are instilling the makings of gratitude in our kids.
I think we’ve done this in hundreds of little ways and a few very big ones. We emphasize kindness and respect at every turn. You could call those our family values and our mantra of sorts. My kids probably talk about these in their sleep. From these two flow so many others, like gratitude.
My kids are two and four, so kindness and respect are pretty elusive concepts, but we’re starting ’em young. Mostly we point out when something that one of us has done or said (parents included) is either kind or respectful. And conversely if it is not. And instead of emphasizing the act itself, we try to say “helping your brother reach his cup shows him what a kind sister you are” or “when you say ‘excuse me, Mommy’ I know that you are a respectful boy” to help them understand that this is who they are, not only what they do. They actually seem to understand and are now in the habit of calling it out for each other and others.
Of course, then there are manners. They say “please” and “thank you” without prompting most of the time. It’s in the small moments that I think this sinks in most. One way this plays out is that the parent who makes dinner gets a big “thanks for making dinner Mama.” Then my partner (because honestly, she’s almost always the one who’s made dinner!) will respond, “It makes me happy you’re grateful for dinner!” I think my kids know what it means when they use their manners because I can ask them and they are able explain it. Hearing the words they choose when telling me what “thank you” means is also pretty adorable.
Similarly, they must greet people when we go into their home, and they must say “goodbye” and thank them when we leave. This wasn’t something I saw particular value in when my partner first started having our daughter do it early on, but as she’s gotten older, I absolutely see that it shows her, and our, respect and appreciation for someone opening their home to us.
What about things you might be wondering? You know, a new toy/costume/treat that a kid really, really, really wants so badly right now. Don’t get me wrong, my kids ask for these all the time. But, outside of special occasions and real necessities, my kids have to earn what they want. Earning is only done through kind and respectful behavior and words. Now, this can be done on the spot sometimes (because I’m not that rigid!) by some spontaneous kindness shown to others, like being a helper.
These are just a few of the ways we are trying to help our kids know, understand and show gratitude. I really believe it starts with us as the parents emphasizing these values and showing them to our kids in our words and actions, then helping them identify ways they are already doing it and encouraging them in all kinds of ways to be grateful.
My absolute favorite way my kids show their gratitude is that they say “good morning, world” when I open their curtains at the start of the day. And what is there to be more grateful for than our beautiful world?