Have you ever given something to your child that you thought would be a big deal, but he just takes it and moves along? Most likely you have, and you’re probably reliving a flurry of emotions just thinking about it. Will you be inclined to give him anything else in the near future? Probably not.
Children can quickly develop a mindset of entitlement. It’s not a glamorous trait. Yet it will become ingrained if we as parents don’t train them to be thankful. As with most character training, it starts with simple things.
Thank You and No Thank You
Children can be taught to express thankfulness even before they can talk well. Every time you give them something good or do something nice for them, lead them in saying, “Thank you, mama.” An accompanying hand gesture or sign language can also help them to learn to respond to the simplest acts of kindness with gratitude.
I will never tire of hearing my grandchildren tell me, “Thank you, Nana,” after I’ve done something for them. But my daughter-in-law has taken this a step further. When her children don’t want something that is being offered, she has trained them to say, “No, but thank you.” I am taken aback every time my barely four-year old granddaughter politely responds with this answer, smiling at me the entire time.
Thank You Notes
Much of the time, a simple verbal “thank you” is more than sufficient. Other times, a written note expressing your gratitude is deserved. I come from a generation when handwritten thank you notes were the norm. It’s a dying formality yet it’s still incredibly classy. It emphasizes your recognition of the person’s thoughtfulness and effort behind his action or gift. When appropriate, you can help your child draw a picture or write a simple note expressing their thanks.
Many years ago, when we had all five of our children at home, we wanted to establish thankfulness as a habit. That wasn’t too hard to do since we weren’t very affluent. Our children had to learn to be industrious and find ways to earn money as early as junior high in order to pay for trendy clothes or shoes. With this in mind, whatever we could do for them above the usual was greatly appreciated.
Somehow, one of them began a group chant which has carried through the years and generations. Anytime we would do something special for them, one of the children would start a shout with, “1, 2, 3,” and all the rest of the kids would join in with, “Thank you, Mom and Dad!” We loved hearing that! It never got old. The fact that they didn’t take it for granted was awesome.
But the reaction of non-family members who were on the receiving end of this Andersen shout-out was amazing!
People were surprised—almost shocked—that the kids made such a big deal about their gift. But on the inside, they loved it! We often received comments from those who were recipients of this unique demonstration of appreciation.
A Negative Consequence
A few years ago, I heard a teaching by Dr. Robi Sonderegger in which he shared one way he trained his children to be thankful. If a child didn’t respond with some expression of thankfulness shortly after receiving a gift, he had to give the gift back. A powerful lesson to a child if all the other kids in the car are eating ice cream cones, and he has to give his back!
The Benefits Of Thankfulness
When our church was teaching on thankfulness in Sunday School, I had to explain to my three-year old class why being thankful is so important. It’s just this simple…
- It makes the person you thank feel good.
It makes us happy, too. It makes us feel good to show appreciation.
It makes people want to do it again. (Somehow, that seemed to really connect with a three-year old—still self-centered—mind!)
Thankfulness is one of the most important character traits we can instill in our children. It changes their attitude about life. To be appreciative makes them more others-minded. It’s an essential lesson you can’t start too early.
Question: What is a favorite way that you use to instill thankfulness in your child? Share your answer in the comments below.