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Raising Appreciative Children

Handmade Thank You NoteTo be appreciative is to be thankful or grateful, and to have an understanding of something’s value. When we buy a jug of milk from the store we might not appreciate the work involved in raising dairy cows and milking them twice a day, but the child of a dairy farmer who sees his parents in the barn at 5 am milking the cows is more likely to appreciate having milk at breakfast.

How Can We Raise Appreciative Children?

Children absorb what they are exposed to, so when they see adults around them expressing gratitude to friends and strangers, they will learn to act the same way themselves. Living your own life with gratitude is the best way to teach your children to be appreciative. Also, keep in mind that expectations of gratitude and appreciativeness in children must be modified according to your child’s developmental stage. Children under the age of 7 have a less-developed understanding of other people’s feelings, but older children will be more able to understand and express gratitude.

Entitlement vs Gratitude

If we think we’re entitled to something, we’re unlikely to appreciate receiving it. How grateful do you feel when you see clean water come out of the tap? It’s an everyday thing for people in developed countries, and one which we see as a basic human right. Yet many, many people in the world would feel an overwhelming sense of amazement and gratitude to have a tap with clean water right inside their house. When we can understand feelings of entitlement as a barrier to gratitude we have taken a good first step to increasing our own appreciation in life and passing that on to our children.

Five Ways to Encourage Children to be Appreciative

  1. Make “thank-you” a real expression of emotion. Draw or write thank you notes together when you receive gifts and talk about how nice it feels when someone does something nice for you or sends a present in the mail.
  2. Talk about consequences of behavior in terms of other people’s feelings. Instead of explaining that you shouldn’t push someone else because it’s not nice or you’ll have to sit in a time out, talk about how pushing might make the other person feel. Use memories of past hurts to help your child understand.
  3. Visit a working farm and see how food is grown. It’s easy to feel entitled to easily accessible, cheap, prepackaged food on the supermarket shelves, but there is a lot of work that goes into food production behind the scenes.
  4. Avoid excess. If your child’s room is already overflowing with toys, it’s harder for them to appreciate a new toy offered as a gift.
  5. Appreciate your child. Demonstrate gratitude and appreciation for your child, especially when your child does kind things for you or others.

Being appreciative and thankful in life are not just pleasant social graces, but can dramatically increase your enjoyment and feelings of connectedness to the world around you. By showing children what it means to appreciate things, other people and the wonder of hot running water, both you and your children will benefit for years to come.

Originally published on Suite101.com on June 11, 2008