Helping children learn thanksgivings and gratitude is not as difficult as you might think. It can be as simple as taking them with you as you serve the community. Whether it is the local food bank, children's hospital, animal shelter, or homeless shelter does not matter. When you take them talk about what is happening and why. Let them see how what you are doing is making life better for those in need. Give them time to experience the everything, give them space to absorb what is happening around them. When they start asking questions and they will answer honestly. Share your deepest feelings about thankfulness, gratitude, and serving others. The ideal time to start doing this is around the age of five. The truth is we overlook the fact that this is a part of early childhood development.
According to Lawrence Kohlberg ideally moral development should be set around age 13 . However, here in the West we no longer purposely teach these skills. Children actually begin to show signs of empathy around two years of age yet it is often not nurtured. Ever see or have a young child give their favorite toy to another child or you who is upset. That's the beginning of empathy. They see someone upset and are seeking to comfort them by giving to that person what gives them comfort. Recognize those moments when you see them and celebrate them. Be specific about what you saw.
"Jamie, I am so proud of you. You shared your Pooh bear with Jenny when she was upset. Good job! Give me five!"
This statement and ones like it give your children not only the joy a good job statement, but knowledge in how to repeat the behavior. Recognizing when your child is showing signs of thankfulness, gratitude, and service and pointing it out is a great use of teachable moments.
This year during the holidays I suggest you do the following:
- Take your children to help pack Thanksgiving boxes for the needy.
- Have them help you shop and drop off toys for Toys for Tots.
- If they are older ask them to help you pick volunteer projects for the family.
- Get them to start a gratitude journal.
- Get them to tell you one thing they are grateful for each day.
- Tell them one thing you are grateful for each day.
- Catch them in thankful/grateful behavior and make a specific statement about what you saw.
- Have them write thank you notes for Christmas gifts.
Remember you are their example. Say please and thank you. Demonstrate thankfulness as much as possible. Encourage them to give you compliments too. Give them a chance to catch you. This holiday season I hope you use this time to plant, nurture, and tend to our children's development of thankfulness, gratitude, and serving.
Believe in Parenting