When children are in their toddler years, it's often difficult to get a "please" and "thank you" out of them. This is because they haven't hit that developmental milestone yet. But when they get into elementary school, not showing gratitude is no longer a tolerated right of childhood. So as parents, we have an opportunity to create thankful kids. There are two important ways to encourage kids to be thankful - being helpful and having a giving spirit.
By encouraging children to be helpful, you allow them to strengthen bonds with the ones they are helping. These bonds create nurturing and long-lasting friendships. There are different ways to encourage a child to be helpful.
- Helping with chores: when children are young, they want to help because they want to emulate their parents. Encourage this natural desire to help, even if they don't do the chores right. It will pay off when they're older and actually can do the chores properly!
- Help plan someone else's birthday party: whether it's a sibling, friend or relative, encourage children to be a part of planning someone else's party. This will foster a strong bond with others because they must think about what someone else wants, not just what they want themselves.
- Teach someone a skill: every child has something that he or she is good at. When given support, that skill improves and bolsters confidence. Give children many opportunities to pass that confidence along.
Kids may have a hard time giving away something that belongs to them. Think about all those times you tried to thin out the avalanche of toys in the closet or when you offered a part of your child's snack to another child. When children learn to share – both their possessions and their time – they learn that other people matter, making the transition from "I'm important" to "we're important." Being giving can be a difficult lesson to teach, but here are some ideas:
- Allow kids to be involved in choosing which toys to give up, then take the toys to a local emergency shelter. Take this opportunity to talk to your child about what it means to not have a home and reasons why that might happen.
- Help children discover what interests them, and connect these interests to causes and activities that provide volunteer opportunities. For example, if your child is interested in dinosaurs and there happens to be a museum nearby that has a dinosaur exhibit, ask if the museum has volunteer opportunities for children.
Being helpful and giving will lead to a greater sense of gratitude. Be a positive role model and help your child develop these habits. You will discover that the more thankful kids are, the happier, healthier, and more positive they are!