Lessons begin at home

Nurture Thankfulness in Your Child

by Brenda Nixon

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Among the early words you teach your tot are "thank you." Young children need prompts like, "What do you say to Aunt Becky?" Hopefully, over time, it becomes an automatic response. But parents need to continue teaching an attitude of thanks even to teenagers. As you celebrate the busy holiday season, utilize every moment as an opportunity to nurture thankfulness in your child. Incorporate these free and simple ways into your family life:

Live the Lesson

It has been said that we're always teaching; sometimes we use words. Remember to say "thank you" to others, but more importantly, live a life of appreciation. Your children are watching their first and most influential teacher!

Notice Nature

Encourage your child to appreciate the inspiration that surrounds him. Marvel at the power of the wind, the immensity of the ocean, the perfection of a snowflake, the night sky, or the rugged beauty of a mountain range. I've reminded my girls of the saying of Goethe, "Nature is the living, visible garment of God."

Convert Attitude into Action

A small gesture, such as a smile, can lighten the day of the waitress who hands your child a glass of milk or a hug for the teacher is always welcome. When a child empties the dishwasher, it is an action of appreciation for home and food. Thankfulness is also expressed through homemade cards and drawings. To appreciate their classroom teachers, my girls and I always made little gifts for them at the holidays.

Discover Dictionary Descriptions

Although we have our own terms to explain thankfulness, it helps to see new definitions. Go to the library and see what a variety of dictionaries say about the word. I like what The Webster's Dictionary says, "Impressed with a sense of kindness received," because it takes the focus off a material possession and puts it on an attitude.

In researching for this article, I found websites that offer all types of quotes. A humorous one about thanks comes from Woody Allen, "I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose."

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Contrast Your Family with Folks Less Fortunate

Help your child see that there are those in your community who aren't as blessed: families without homes, people who are sad and living alone, or those who must go to food kitchens to eat. When my daughters were young, one of our family traditions was to serve a meal to the homeless. My husband, two daughters, and I spent one evening at a rescue mission every Autumn. After seeing the faces of those accepting a plate of food and their expressions of thanks, my daughters quickly appreciated going back home to their safe, cozy bedrooms.

Make a Medley of Thankfulness

Grab a pile of old magazines. Encourage your child to look through the pages and cut out pictures of things for which they are thankful. Glue these on one page, overlapping pictures. Soon your child will have a visual reminder of the blessings in his life.

If circumstances have put your family in debt, find out how to conquer your debt by creating a plan personalized to your family's budget and lifestyle.

Pen a Poem of Thankfulness

Together with your child, try to write words that rhyme with thanks, gratitude or thankful. This can be a fun, language learning time also.

Practice Gratitude Permanently

Showing thanks and appreciation need not end with this time of year. I believe letter writing is becoming a lost art. Help your child write thank you notes for their Christmas gifts. Preschoolers can dictate to you their gratitude or express thanks by drawing a picture of their appreciation for their gift-giver. Find opportunities during this upcoming year to reinforce your lesson.

As a parent, I hope my children learn to be thankful by the way I live my life before them. After all, as William Bennett said in his book, The Moral Compass: Stories for a Life's Journey, "Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that thankfulness is indeed a virtue."

Brenda Nixon partners with organizations to educate and encourage parents. She is a professional speaker and the author of Parenting Power in the Early Years and The Birth to Five Book.

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