Yesterday, we celebrated my daughter’s birthday.
For this special occasion, we decided to let her make her own birthday cake. It took more time to make but it was definitely worth the lesson!
Gratitude is one of the trickiest concepts to teach toddlers and preschoolers — who are by nature self-centered — but one of the most important. By learning gratitude, they become sensitive to the feelings of others, developing empathy and other life skills along the way. Grateful kids look outside their one-person universe and understand that their parents and other people do things for them — prepare dinner, dole out hugs, buy toys.
By participating in simple household chores like feeding the dog or stacking dirty dishes on the counter, kids realize that all these things take effort.
How to Teach Gratitude:
Children model their parents in every way, so make sure you use “please” and “thank you” when you talk to them. (“Thanks for that hug — it made me feel great!”) Insist on their using the words, too.
- Work gratitude into your daily conversation. Try to weave appreciation for mundane things into your everyday talk: “We’re so lucky to have a good cat like Eliott!” “Aren’t the colors in the sunset amazing?” “I’m so happy when you listen!” When you reinforce an idea frequently, it’s more likely to stick. One way to turn up the gratitude in your house is to pick a “thanking” part of the day. Make saying what good things happened today part of the dinnertime conversation.
- Have kids help. It happens to all of us: You give your child a chore, but it’s too agonizing watching him a) take forever to clear the table or b) make a huge mess mixing the pancake batter. The temptation is always to step in and do it yourself. But the more you do for them, the less they appreciate your efforts. (Don’t you feel more empathy for people who work outside on cold days when you’ve just been out shoveling snow yourself?) By participating in simple household chores like feeding the dog or stacking dirty dishes on the counter, kids realize that all these things take effort.
- Find a goodwill project. That doesn’t mean you need to drag your toddler off to a soup kitchen every week. Instead, figure out some way he can actively participate in helping someone else, even if it’s as simple as making cupcakes for a sick neighbor. “As you’re stirring the batter or adding sprinkles,” talk about how you’re making them for a special person, and how happy the recipient will be.
- Encourage generosity. Instead of throwing things away, donate toys and clothes to less fortunate kids.
- Insist on thank-you notes. Just the act of saying out loud why he loved the gift will make him feel more grateful.
- Practice saying no. Of course, kids ask for toys, video games, and candy — sometimes on an hourly basis. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to feel grateful when your every whim is granted. Saying no a lot makes saying yes that much sweeter.
- Be patient. You can’t expect gratitude to develop overnight — it requires weeks, months, even years of reinforcement. But trust me, you will be rewarded.