Teaching children gratitude

Published 9:41 pm Tuesday, November 26, 2019

By Nathan Rice

I accepted the offer when our neighbors at the campgrounds invited us over for lunch. I gave my order, and the order of the two middle-schoolers with me, to the one picking up Chinese food at the restaurant down the street.

We gathered on the porch of their cabin as we waited for one of our hosts to return with the food. Soon, we were all eating our favorite Chinese dish and conversing about the beautiful weather and our plans for the summer.

Email newsletter signup

One middle-schooler finished his meal and asked me politely if he could go outside. I gave him my permission, and he headed towards the door. I reached out to stop him and reminded him to say thank you to our hosts before he left. The other middle schooler was not far behind in his meal, so we soon had a repeat performance. I stopped him as he tried to leave and whispered a reminder for him to say thank you before he left.

Thanksgiving is a great time to teach children about gratitude, but we will never get the message across if we relegate the idea of giving thanks to one day out of the year. Teaching children to be thankful, and to show thanks, takes much more than making them say one thing they are thankful for prior to devouring their Thanksgiving meal. Like most of the things we try to teach children, teaching them about gratitude takes time and persistence.

Helping children develop an attitude of gratitude can begin by teaching them to show their appreciation to those who help them or do nice things for them. We must teach our children to say thank you.

This is done by reminding them, constantly and consistently, to say those “magic words.” It will require stopping them before they leave somewhere and reminding them to say thank you to those who helped them or gave them something. It may seem that they are never going to start doing it on their own, but constant and consistent reminders will help them learn that gratitude should be expressed verbally.

We can also help them by helping them see how a kind act benefited them. When I finished my meal and thanked our hosts, I joined the middle-schoolers in their game outside. I said, “It sure was nice of the Holters to invite us over for lunch. It saved us time going out to get something, so we have more time on the campgrounds. They were even nice enough to pay for all of us, so maybe we can use the money I set aside for lunch to get a snack on the way home.” Statements like this can help children better understand what other people have done for them.

There is more to helping children become thankful than simply making them verbalize their appreciation to others, but having them say thank you and helping them understand what others have done for them is an easy way to set a foundation on which you can continue to build.

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at nrice@abnb.org.