Tis’ the season to be thankful!

Gratitude can be a healthy way to begin a new year and teaching your children gratitude is more than just saying “thank-you!”

Parents and caregivers can assist in teaching children an attitude of gratitude.

Parents and caregivers can assist in teaching children an attitude of gratitude.

December and January are traditionally two months of the year that we associate with gift giving, generosity and thankfulness. Children may receive multiple gifts on one day from a variety of friends and family, or a constant stream of presents over the course of several days or weeks. In the midst of holiday enthusiasm and celebration, sending an expression of thanks for someone’s thoughtfulness may be overlooked.

One way most parents and caregivers begin to teach thankfulness is through the word “thank-you;” a phrase that is taught to children from a young age. The words are prompted by parents, grandparents and even strangers – “Now what do you say for that?” We urge children to say thank-you for everything from a glass of juice to an expensive birthday surprise. As a result, “thank-you” can become over-used during the onslaught of holiday gifts and treats.

How can you teach children the importance of expressing gratitude without making it seem like a dreaded homework assignment? Michigan State University Extension recommends several ways that parents and caregivers can assist in teaching an attitude of gratitude.

  • Model behavior. It is critical for parents and caregivers to set a standard for gratitude. Share with your child when something or someone makes you feel good. You can express thankfulness for something as seemingly small as a beautiful day or a good cup of coffee.
  • Practice. Talk with the children in your life about what they might expect at a family gathering when gifts will be shared. You might practice ways where a child describes an item or how they feel when they receive something that someone picked out just for them, such as “This blanket will keep me warm when I watch my movie.” You can also practice through role-play with a pretend present.
  • Be specific. When your child displays gratitude in a way that pleased you, be specific about what they did; describe the behavior that you witnessed. “It makes me happy when you smile at your Grandma and hug her when you say thank-you.”
  • Teach. With children who don’t yet write, you can have them tell you what they like about a gift. Write a note of thanks using their language and read their note back to them for approval. Children can also show gratitude in ways other than words. Have your child draw a picture of the gift they received and mail it to the giver.
  • Have clear expectations. You may remember receiving a gift that wasn’t exactly what you were expecting. Being pushed to show thankfulness is difficult when you just received a gift of socks and a stocking cap. Instead, teach children to make a positive comment about the gift such as “This hat is the same color as the one my best friend wears.”

A sense of gratitude is an important life skill. It is as simple as being appreciative of the good things in your life. Thank you for taking the time to learn about teaching thankfulness and gratitude to your children.

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