My friend’s adult children are admirable people; people who each seem to embody so many traits most parents would like to see in their own children. For example, her son and his new wife hand wrote personal thank you notes for all of their shower and wedding gifts. These notes were special. They were special because they were real and sincere. Each was unique and personal. There was nothing rote or obligatory about them.
I asked my friend how she instilled such a sense of thankfulness in her children. She said:
Every night, I tucked my children into bed and just before kissing them goodnight, I led them into their last thoughts of the day.
“Thank you for…”
And their small voices collected the list – what they were grateful for; who they were grateful for. It was usually a list of people and events and objects from that evening or at best, the last day or two.
‘Thank you for chocolate cupcakes. Thank you for toads. For my bike. For Daddy.’
Some night’s lists were long. Some were nearly non-existent, but we always ended with, ‘Thank you for love.’ And I kissed them good-night and left their room feeling my own heart, swelling with gratitude for the gift they were. Even when days were long and hard, love trumped.
How often do we say thank you only because it is what we are supposed to do? Training children to reflexively speak the words thank you is not wrong, but offering children practice in feeling gratitude opens new doors to sincere appreciation… appreciation of objects, events, experiences, and people. That is how to encourage thankfulness, in our children and ourselves.
Feeling grateful creates space for a constant awareness and welcoming of love. And that is something to be thankful for.