Being grateful is the state of being aware and glad of something that benefits us physically, emotionally, or mentally. All of us experience the feeling at some point or another. But as a parent, I want my children to learn to express that appreciation.
Why? Because I don’t want my children to grow up with a feeling of entitlement. Instead, I want them to recognize that kindness is a gift shared by other people who are under no obligation to do so. And I hope that once they see and recognize it in others, they themselves will be motivated to do kind things for other people.
TV Host and parenting author Jeannette Kaplun believes that being grateful helps her navigate through complicated or difficult times in her life, and she wants to pass on that skill to her children. In a recent article on Babble, she shares her tips for raising a thankful child. At the top of that list is teaching kids manners. A simple “please” or “thank you” is expected in her home because words like these can be a very powerful first step when teaching manners and thankfulness to children.
“It’s even more powerful when children see their parents being polite, respectful, and showing others that they value them,” Kaplun says. “If you start when your kids are young, being respectful becomes a habit, a way of life, even second-nature I would say.”
Bilingual freelance writer Tracy López believes that experiences can teach better than words. During a trip to her husband’s homeland of El Salvador, she writes that her sons quickly learned to recognize those who were less fortunate and experienced first-hand the ultimate satisfaction that comes with making someone in need very happy. “It was really eye-opening for my boys,” she says. “To realize that there are people who are so hungry they’re willing to eat what we would consider trash – I think it reminded them how fortunate our family is in a big way.”
For other moms, gratitude is taught through daily traditions. Carla Molina, freelance writer and homeschooling mother-of-two, started what she calls the Gratitude Ritual with her girls. After participating in the 30 Days of Gratitude on Facebook last year, she realized she wanted to establish something more permanent that her kids could experience on a daily basis.
“We tried different things – giving thanks during a meal, while making dinner, during bath time, in the car,” says Molina. “But what everyone naturally gravitated toward was giving thanks at bedtime.” So each evening before bed, she lights a candle and has her daughters name three things they’re grateful for that day before they blow out the candle.
For working mom Lisa Quiñones-Fontanez, teaching gratitude is more of a challenge because her son is autistic. “Gratitude is an abstract concept and the abstract is challenging for kids with autism,” she says. “However, when my son, Norrin, first started working with his ABA & Speech Therapists and started putting words together to make requests, we always made him say please and thank you.”
Quiñones-Fontanez, who is the creator of the blog, Autism Wonderland, remembers therapists laughing at her for making Norrin say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ because he was struggling to put three words together (“I want juice”). But it was her small way of challenging him, of teaching him cause and effect. She says he eventually learned that if he said ‘please’ he’d be more likely to get what he wanted/needed. And he also learned that once his request was granted, he needs to say thank you.
She also makes sure that she uses the words please and thank you with him. “Especially after he does something sweet,” Quiñones -Fontanez says. “Like, if he gives me a hug or a kiss, I always thank him because I want him to understand that I appreciate those gestures.
“Gratitude – for our family – needs to start with baby steps at home.”
Monica Olivera Hazelton, NBC Latino contributor and the founder and publisher of MommyMaestra.com, a site for Latino families that homeschool, as well as families with children in a traditional school setting who want to take a more active role in their children’s education. She is the 2011 winner of the “Best Latina Education Blogger” award by LATISM.