It’s never too soon to begin teaching your little one about gratitude. Children as young as 2 can begin practicing basic expressions of gratitude, like saying “thank you” when something is done for them. Here are eight ways you can help foster an attitude of gratitude in your little one:
- Model gratitude: Your preschooler is watching and listening more than you realize, mimicking your words and behavior. Use every opportunity you can to model gratitude so he picks up on it. Thank your spouse for taking out the garbage. Express gratitude for the delicious meal someone serves you. Thank the stranger who holds the door open for you. Make eye contact and express your thankfulness genuinely, so your little copycat will learn to do the same.
- Say “thank you” to your child: Expressing genuine gratitude to your child is just as important as modeling it. Show your appreciation when she cooperates, shows kindness or behaves in a helpful manner. Not only will this reinforce good behavior, but it will also engender an attitude of gratitude.
- Don’t overdo the gifts: Too many gifts on birthdays and holidays can overwhelm young children and inadvertently create a sense that more is better. It’s impossible for your child to truly appreciate each gift if he is showered with many. Explain to well-meaning grandparents and friends that with fewer gifts, your child will play with and appreciate each one. Teach your child to open one gift at a time and to say “thank you” for each present.
- Write thank-you notes: Encourage your child to write thank-you notes for gifts she receives or to a teacher or friend for doing something nice. If your little one is too young to write a note, let her draw a picture to show her appreciation. You can also have your preschooler dictate a thank-you note for you to write on her behalf. Let her help add a stamp to the envelope and deliver it to the post office with you.
- Give back, together: As your child gets older, let him get involved in community service with you and learn about helping those in need. He can even help select canned goods from your pantry to donate. Take the time to explain that many people are less fortunate than your family, and bring him with you when you drop off the cans at a food bank.
- Provide prompts: As your little one starts talking, lovingly remind her to say “please” and “thank you.” It will take her a while to learn the right time to use these phrases, but the sooner she starts practicing, the better.
- Share stories about gratitude: Books are a great way to help young children relate to new ideas. Some of my favorite stories about gratitude that you can read with your preschooler are: “Just So Thankful (Little Critter)” by Mercer Mayer; “Biscuit Is Thankful” by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, and “I’m Thankful Each Day” by P.K. Hallinan.
- Establish a gratitude ritual: Gratitude rituals help young children build a bank of memories that involve feeling and expressing gratitude. You can create these rituals with your family to help your little one become familiar with showing appreciation. Examples of gratitude rituals include counting blessings at bedtime or having each family member name something she feels grateful for before dinner.
It’s important to remember that we aren’t born grateful — it must be taught and nurtured, just like other character traits. Start encouraging your preschooler to learn and express gratitude now to help him grow into a generous, appreciative human being.