Teaching Toddlers to be Grateful
“Grateful” is not a word we usually associate with toddlers! In fact, from infancy through early childhood, children believe “it’s all about me,” and teaching them otherwise can be a challenge! Parents often focus on teaching their children to say “thank you,” but teaching the meaning behind this word is a bit more complicated. As the holidays approach, now is a good time to think about being grateful ourselves and helping our young children understand gratitude. Here are some ways to start instilling gratitude at a young age:
- Model gratitude in your words and behaviors. In front of your children, express sincere gratitude to your spouse for cooking dinner and offer to wash the dishes to show your spouse you recognize the hard work that went into cooking. Tell your child how much you appreciate it when he picks up his toys or how happy it makes you when she comes to the table when called for breakfast.
- Capitalize on your toddler’s desire to be “Mommy’s Big Helper.” Young children love to feel important! And what could be more important than helping mommy? Find small tasks for your child to do (turn on a light, bring her sippy cup to the table, etc.) so that she can feel successful and important, and you can express gratitude (as discussed above). Be sure to explain your words and actions. For example, saying, “It’s such a big help when you bring your cup to the table. That makes me happy!” This can be followed with a big smile and a high-five.
- Teach the joy of giving. Getting presents is great! Even grown-ups love presents. But help your child learn that giving presents, and making someone else feel happy, can be quite rewarding too. Allow your child to help pick out or wrap gifts and deliver the gifts to others. Or plan a family “giving day,” where everyone picks one or two items (clothes, toys, etc.) that are no longer wanted and take a trip to a donation center together.
- Resist the urge to buy your child every toy he or she desires. Sometimes, the more you get, the less grateful you are! Gratitude comes from appreciating the things you have, even when there are plenty of things you still want. While we may love to shower our children with toys and gadgets they seemingly can’t live without, when children are given everything their hearts desire, they have more trouble learning to value those things.
- Focus on the celebrations, not the gifts. The holidays are a time to celebrate, share and experience traditions, and spend time with family and friends. While presents usually accompany holiday celebrations, get excited about the festivities, not just the presents. Bake cookies with your children that you can bring to a holiday party. Let your child help decorate the house. Have your child draw pictures for each of the family members you will be seeing. Sing holiday songs together and read books with your children about the meaning of the holiday you are celebrating.
Dr. Lauren Goldstein is a Florida licensed psychologist who works with children, parents, and families. Her specialties include anxiety, depression, selective mutism, parenting, adoption issues, children’s behavioral problems, toddler and preschool issues, new baby education, ADD/ADHD, academic issues, stress and coping, social skills deficits, bereavement, trauma, low self-esteem, and family dysfunction. She also has a special interest in nutritional psychology. Dr. Lauren provides individual and family psychotherapy, as well as developmental, psychological, and educational evaluations, including gifted testing, testing for ADD/ADHD and learning disabilities, and evaluations for general psychological functioning. For more information, go to www.drlaurengoldstein.com.