Greetings, Learning Expressions Readers!
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I thought now was an apt moment to reflect upon the not-so-easy task of raising a thankful child. At age 7½ I mortified my own mother by sitting on Santa’s lap and, in response to his question of what I’d like for Christmas, giving the surly reply, “Every. Thing. You’ve. Got.” Unsurprisingly, my mother immediately whisked me away (much to the chagrin of my well behaved siblings) and spent the entirety of the car journey home weeping over how she could have possibly raised such an ungrateful offspring.
In my defense, I had recently learned the horrible truth about Santa and felt utterly disenchanted by everything to do with the holiday season. The year before, I had set a booby-trap for Old Saint Nick (in the form of sharp/pointy toy trains spread across my bedroom threshold) and had been rudely awoken by my expletive-spouting parents as they fell on top of each other and spilled the spoils of my stocking all over the floor. Mom took a slug of Santa’s sherry, Dad took a half hearted bite out of a snowman shaped sugar cookie—and they were gone, my childhood fantasies along with them.
On that car journey home, when mom asked why I had acted so disrespectfully to Santa (and told me I would certainly be on his naughty list and at great risk of not getting presents) I hissed that, unlike the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, Santa didn’t even exist thank you very much. She left that particular discussion to another day, but took us home and sat us down to discuss the importance of being thankful for what we already had, as well as grateful for what we would receive that holiday season. Below I have come up with a list of ways to help foster gratitude in even the most beastly of children, as inspired by my long-suffering mother.
Reward and Exhibit Gratitude
“Thank you” is a golden word. If you’re using it frequently and thoughtfully, it’s likely your children will pick up on it – you are, after all, their first and best role model. Though thankfulness is a complex concept they might not entirely understand at a young age, saying their “pleases” and “thank yous” is a good habit to engrain early.
Saying “thank you” might sometimes have a hollow ring to it (especially if resentfully muttered by a truculent 7½ year old), which is why exhibiting meaningful expressions of gratitude in front of your children is also so important. Showing you are thankful for the everyday things (a warm house, a good meal, bedtime stories) will help your children not to take the good life for granted.
Silly though it may sound, thank your children when they say thank you or express their gratitude. Give them a hug, and tell them you appreciate it when they’re appreciative.
Set Giving Boundaries
Back in the day, I would have been a big proponent of giving your kids whatever they want, whenever they wanted it. It was the great sadness of my childhood that my parents’ childrearing methods did not align with such a belief. However, as my husband and I begin to consider having children of our own, I’m coming to see that constantly showering children with gifts may merely result in the creation of tiny tyrants.
Parenting articles I’ve read suggest that the best way to make your child an appreciative (rather than entitled) individual is to make them wait for or earn the things they want. Not to say spontaneous gifts shouldn’t ever be given, but that waiting for birthdays or holidays to give gifts allows children to look forward to (and be grateful for) what they receive. Similarly, encouraging kids to earn money through chores, or to save up their allowances towards a toy they want, teaches them the value of working hard and saving money.
I would also suggest occasionally providing younger children with a little bit of perspective, so they can come to understand that not all children enjoy the same kind of privileges that they do. One article I came across said, “When they’re taking a warm bath you might discuss with them the fact that some families don’t even have clean water in their houses.” In this way, children begin to understand the world outside themselves and can appreciate their own place within it.
With older children, try to find ways that they can actively get involved within the community—whether it’s volunteering at a soup kitchen, donating gifts to low income families, or running a book drive. Giving them the opportunity to make others feel happy and grateful is a truly profound thing.
Thanksgiving is the time of year that many of us will pause and reflect on all that we are thankful for. I would encourage you to create a ritual around this that your family can do every year. My favorite part of Thanksgiving occurs when my family sits around the table and we all tell each other what we are thankful for that year. Needless to say, at 7½ I announced to my family that I was especially thankful that at the very least the Easter Bunny (and most likely Santa’s elves) still really existed.
Talk to you again soon!