I made dinner for the family and after we ate, my son said, “Thanks, Mom! That was really good!” His siblings chimed in with their thanks and I marveled. While my children have a variety of habits that leave something to be desired, they have had this habit of expressing gratitude to my husband and me for quite some time.
I am delighted by my children’s thankfulness, but I didn’t know where it came from until recently when I decided to ask them, “Why do you say ‘thank you’?” I was surprised by what they had to say. Maybe you will be too.
#1 We’re homeschooled.
“We spend so much time with you,” my son said. “And we aren’t around kids who aren’t thankful.”
I have made it clear to the kids that I homeschool as a sacrifice of my time and money because I love them. I know I had a selfish motivation in telling them this: I didn’t want them to complain about school when it is true that I sacrifice for them everyday. My husband has affirmed this truth to them.
Before jumping to the conclusion that homeschooling means grateful kids, I wonder if the connection is the sincere belief that my husband and I are deserving of gratitude? There are so many hard-working, self-sacrificing parents who don’t homeschool who also feel like they still aren’t giving their kids enough.
What if, regardless of how your children are educated, you communicated your firm belief that you’re deserving of gratitude from them?
#2 You discipline us.
At first I thought my son meant that I punished them for lack of gratitude, but then I remembered watching one episode of Nanny 911 with him. A four-year-old on the show called his mother a witch with a ‘B’ and my son was aghast. I told him at the time that this is what our family would be like without discipline.
When the kids were younger, I do remember promising a consequence for lack of gratitude. We had gone on an expensive, time-consuming outing and the kids were whining about snacks, rather than thanking us. I said that if they weren’t going to be grateful, that we wouldn’t be doing this again.
But that discipline can’t explain the attitude my children have today. Thinking back to Nanny 911, I see gratitude requiring respect. If our children’t didn’t respect us, why would they be thankful to us? And if we didn’t discipline them, why would they respect us?
I’ve gone through all kinds of phases in my beliefs about child discipline, but one thing remains: I believe discipline is the product of love and time.
If you love your child enough to take the time to discipline him, he is more likely to respect you and be grateful to you.
#3 You say ‘thank you.’
If I were asked why I have the habit of expressing gratitude, I would say I learned it from my mom. In this sense, my kids are just carrying on a family tradition.
In another sense, I have tried to be mindful of thanking my children for doing their chores, expressing delight when they do special things for me (and rewarding them with the Caught Being Good app), and thanking their father in front of them.
However, this explanation of why they’re grateful has reminded me to be careful of complaining–something I do too often.
To raise grateful children, say ‘thank you’ often.
#4 We’re Christians.
This explanation of my children’s gratefulness brought tears to my eyes. The attitude was, “Of course we’re grateful!” They didn’t give me a theological exegesis on their gratitude; it was just an obvious connection for them.
While I have taught the Bible, trained character, and taken my children to church, I have no responsibility for this source of gratitude. Honestly, that’s a relief. God has changed my children’s hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit in ways that go beyond expressing gratitude. That truth gives me peace as I deal with other behavior problems.
Regularly pray and ask God to give your children grateful hearts.
Has anything else encouraged gratitude in your children?
Here are more ideas for promoting thankfulness.