Parents frequently bemoan what they see as a lack of gratitude or appreciation from their children. They may consider their children to be spoiled or blame popular culture for a general lack of civility. How often do parents say things like: “Kids today have no appreciation for what they have. Why, in my day…etc.”
The ability to show gratitude is more of a learned behavior than an innate trait. We need to ask ourselves how well we model this behavior. How often do we express our appreciation to our children? How often do they hear us expressing appreciation to a spouse, parent or other relative? How often as a family do we discuss the things for which we are thankful?
Unfortunately, we may be more likely to inadvertently pass on negative messages. The normal reaction to feeling unappreciated is anger and resentment. Sometimes we stop doing things for others if they don’t meet our expectations for thankfulness. Other times we may label others as selfish, rude or ignorant. Whether we realize it or not, these are clearly behaviors that we are modeling.
There are several things we can do which are far more constructive and which should yield better results. Here are some ideas:
- Make it a practice to tell your children how much you appreciate them and give them specific examples of things they did that merited thanks.
- At least once a month, go around the table at dinner time and ask each person to say one thing for which they are thankful.
- Make up a story that involves the theme of gratitude.
- Stress the importance of thank you notes and make sure you practice what you preach.
- When children are young if they do not automatically thank someone who does something for them, prompt them with a statement such as, “What do you say?”
- Give examples of things you were thankful for during the day. “So and so did ____ and I really appreciated it.”
- Do a volunteer project that will involve the entire family and talk about why it’s important to help others.
Be patient, be persistent and try to stay positive.
This is a partial reprint of an article by Mike Daly, Director of Youth, Adult, and Community Services in Campbell County, VA.
The Gratitude Guru