Kids are naturally self-centered creatures. Think about your child as an infant and toddler and the developmental milestones that signaled they were understanding there was a world what they saw at that moment. From developing the concept of object permanence to developing empathy -- around age four or five according to Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D. -- understanding the world beyond their own wants is a process, and sometimes a very long one. Gratefulness, especially at a holiday like Thanksgiving, isn't instantaneous.
Start by talking
As with so many aspects of parenting, we start with leading by example. Expressing our own feelings of thankfulness and appreciation and the meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday is a first signal to our kids that there is more to it than food. You can talk about the first Thanksgiving holiday that you remember, for example. Who was there and why did it feel so special? Was Thanksgiving the only time of the year you got to see your Uncle Mory, where he told all those funny jokes? Or was it remembering watching your grandmother, despite the aches in her arthritic hands, roll out the pie crust so perfectly -- and then sneak you a little piece of the dough?
Expectations by age
Remember that your child's ability to understand the intangible term "thankful" with depend on their age and developmental stage. The very young child or toddler will likely not be able to understand the concept, even though they know they are supposed to say, "Thank you," during various social interactions.
Slightly older children will begin to express appreciation, but likely only for things for a while. You may hope your Kindergartener will express thankfulness for the love and support of family, but if all she can manage is expressing thankfulness for her stuffed giraffe, it's okay. It's a start.
The older your child gets, the more he or she will be able to grasp the depth of the meaning of thankfulness. As kids see more of the world and more variation in it in terms of economic, social, family and other circumstances, the more likely that child will look around on a day like Thanksgiving and feel lucky -- and thankful.
Year round effort
We may talk about thankfulness and appreciation more at this time of the year than others, but communicating the meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday is really a year-round effort. Expressing gratefulness and appreciation for all in our lives is not limited to November! To help our children really understand why we celebrate thankfulness at all times, we need to express it in March, June and September, too.
The Thanksgiving holiday is a wonderful time to focus on all that is good in our lives and to help our children appreciate it, too -- but don't limit your thankfulness to November!
How do you teach your kids gratitude? Share your tips in the comments section below.
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