Experts share tips for teaching children in holidays
4-H specialist: 'Never too late to teach gratitude'
Teaching the concept of gratitude in children is an important, life-long character trait parents can instill, especially during the gift-giving season of the holidays, according to University of Missouri Extension specialists.
From the time children are young, most parents attempt to teach their child basic manners, such as saying "please" and "thank you" when they receive a gift. During the holidays, all parents want to spoil their child to a degree with gifts, but they also want them to appreciate those gifts.
Extension specialists say no matter what age a child is, it is never too late to teach gratitude.
"It starts with children recognizing there are others who aren't as fortunate, or who are in different circumstances than they are," said Marissa Tucker, 4-H youth program assistant for Barry County. "And, you have to take it a step further in that you have to take action and say, 'We're going to give someone something that maybe they're grateful for, too, as we should be,' because nothing changes if we just recognize things but take no action [to demonstrate that lesson]."
Tucker said taking action teaches children that they can bring happiness to others, thereby causing them to be grateful, too.
"My family set a good example for me as far as what they could share, because they knew we loved to read and play games and just be together, and they helped to solidify that," Tucker said. "We weren't very big on technology because it wasn't something we were really introduced to until school.
"I can remember on Christmas morning, we would get books and games, and at my grandmother's house, there would be the latest cell phones and tablets, but we never felt left out because we were grateful for what we had. I love my ipad, and technology is great, but I also love my books. So children can be grateful for more than one type of gift and can realize that there are other things to be grateful for."
Janice Emery, 4-H youth development specialist with the Extension, offers additional tips to instill gratitude in children.
* Prepare children before any gift-giving situation to be appreciative.
"Many parents experience the dreaded gift opening moment when grandma is watching your child open her gift and the child grimaces at the new socks she bought them," Emery said.
When a child opens a gift and is disappointed, Emery suggests reframing the issue. For example, saying, "I know you wanted a remote control car, but just think of all the different ways you will be able to play with this toy train." Reframing can help defuse the situation and also remind the child to appreciate what they have been given.
* Be a good role model.
"Children are always learning from what adults around them do," Emery said. "Family therapists say to try lacing grateful comments into everyday expressions. For example, instead of saying, 'What a long day at work,' try 'I had a long day at work, but I am grateful for my job so we can buy what we need.'"
Emery suggested a new daily dinner table routine parents can add each day: Go around the table sharing what each person is most thankful for that day.
* Make giving and volunteering a habit in the household. Donate toys, clothing, or household items to a local Goodwill center and get your kids in on the act.
"Let them help you sort out what you will donate and make sure they donate at least one of their belongings they no longer use," Emery said. "It will introduce children to the feeling of giving and get them excited that they have the ability to help others."
Lastly, and in agreement with Tucker, Emery advised parents to always make sure children verbally say "thank you" for gifts, whether during the holidays or any time of the year.
"Regardless of the monetary value of the gift, kids need to learn to express in words their gratitude to the giver," Emery said. "Sending thank you cards after a birthday party, or special event is never out of style."
Something as old-fashioned as writing out and mailing a thank you card can add that personal touch so they can have a deeper appreciation of the effort that went into the gift they received. It is also good to remind children that gifts are not about material gain, but about the thoughtfulness the giver put into it.
"As parents, it is important to validate our children's feelings while still giving them a spirit of appreciation," Emery said. "Kids under the age of five are not emotionally developed enough to hide their negative feelings to protect the feelings of others. Children go through many phases and developmental milestones. It is never too late to teach gratitude. Just because your teenager does not seem to be thankful doesn't mean these steps will not make an impression to ensure you raise a grateful, generous adult."
"I think expressing thanks is so important, because you never know how much of a difference it can make to someone," Tucker said. "There are so many ways to say thank you, and so many people who deserve it. That was something instilled in me at a young age and I thank my parents for teaching me, but you just never know what kind of difference it can make to anyone."
The 4-H program instills many varied life skills in children, including gratitude, through participation in community service projects. For more information on 4-H programs, people may contact Tucker at the Barry County Extension office at 417-847-3161.