Q: I have spent a lot of time teaching my children to say “please” and “thank you” – and they generally respond politely to others. The problem is that they do not always mean what they say. I know that this is a lot to ask for – but my question is – is there a way to raise children who are grateful?
A: Here’s the truth: Research shows that children can learn to say “please” and “thank you” from the age of eighteen months; however, true gratitude and appreciation takes time to grow and blossom. How can we raise children who will eventually appreciate the positive things that life has to offer? Below, I have compiled a few tips that may help you gear your children towards the path of gratitude.
Set boundaries. Whether going into a supermarket, toy store, or hardware store, explain to your child the purpose of your visit. Will you only be going in to get milk or is he allowed to pick out a snack of his choice? When children understand what to expect, they learn to appreciate the objects they receive. Conversely, if you tell your son that you are only going into the store for milk, but when he whines and screams, you buy him the bag of potato chips that he wants, you are teaching him that the payoff for whining and screaming is a gift. No true gratitude can grow from parents “giving in” to negative behavior.
Give and get. If your child has a growing list of items he wants, let him know that he needs to come up with an equally long list of items that he wants to give. The items can be washing dishes, giving toys to tzedakah, or helping a younger sibling with homework. This will help your child understand that material objects do not simply appear when he requests them. Rather, you work hard to be able to provide them for him. Accordingly, he will feel a sense of accomplishment when he earns the items he wants. This sets the wheels in motion for gratitude as he gets older.
Model gratitude. Your child is always watching you, even if you don’t notice. If you model gratitude by saying “thank you” to the clerk in the grocery store and the car service driver, you are teaching him the proper way to act. In addition, when someone is particularly nice to you, after thanking them, you can point out the behavior to your child, “Wasn’t that man so helpful? He picked up all of the groceries that fell out of the bag.”
Volunteer. Perhaps the best way to get your child to feel grateful is to expose him to people from all different walks of life. Take him to a soup kitchen or get him involved in bikur cholim. Not only will you be doing a mitzvah, you will both be growing as people. As your child develops, he will notice how much he has and learn to appreciate the wonderful things in his life.