by Elaine Stone
Mom: “Say ‘Thank you.’”
Dad: “Shake his hand.”
4-year-old (protrudes his tongue at nice gentleman)
Mom: “Share your toy with Allie.”
6-year-old: (hides the toy, avoiding sharing)
Every parent has experienced some level of respect, gratitude or manner issues with their children. The reason is simple: they are learned behaviors and values. They do not magically appear along the path of maturity. Intention and early fortitude are needed to produce polite, respectful and grateful adults. Children lacking these skills can become entitled teens and 20-somethings—where everything is about them.
In 2006, psychologists Nansook Park and Christopher Peterson conducted an analysis of children and found that gratitude had the strongest relationship to life satisfaction. Their findings suggest gratitude not only helps people form, maintain, and strengthen relationships, but also feel connected to a community. The study showed that grateful teens are happier, more optimistic and have better social skills. They are also more satisfied with school, family, community, friends and themselves. Other results showed that these teens found ways to use their strengths to better others, were more engaged in schoolwork and hobbies, boasted higher grades, and were less affected by envy, depression and materialism.
“Of all the characteristics needed for both a happy and morally decent life, none surpasses gratitude. Grateful people are happier, and grateful people are more morally decent. “ — Dennis Prager
Those are great dividends! How does the learning take place? Three simple steps incorporated into everyday life.
1. Check the Mirror.
Most of what parents teach children is caught. They mimic what parents do before listening to what parents say. So be polite, thankful and grateful, respectful of them and others. They will follow suit.
2. Start Early.
The earlier introduced, the easier learned. “Please” and “thank you” can begin even before verbalization, using sign language. These aren’t mere words; they are the avenues to introduce gratitude. And teach the reason behind the words; why these word matter. Example: “because they did something nice for you”, “because you are asking something of them.”
3. Debunk an Entitlement Attitude.
Teach the difference between a want and a need: water is needed, a new game is wanted. Waiting teaches that the universe does not revolve around me. Love them lavishly, but make sure it is tempered with reality. Remind them that kindness didn’t have to be extended to them and that they should express gratitude to the giver.
You—and the world that comes in contact with your children—will appreciate respectful, grateful, thoughtful and kind adults produced by teaching these qualities.
Elaine Stone, mother of three, lives in Spotsylvania County. Write: firstname.lastname@example.org
Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character
by Jeffrey Froh & Giacomo Bono