You do not teach children gratitude by forcing them to say thank you. In fact, that is one way to teach children to suppress and deny their genuine feeling of thankfulness and appreciation out of a drive to express their free will. Do you want children to display good manners while secretly seething in resentment over having to perform like a trained seal? Or do you want to nurture your child’s natural feeling and open expressions of gratitude?  This is an important question to ask yourself.

By Bob Lancer

Until you ask it, you might not clearly know exactly what you want for and from your child.  When you really think about the question, it becomes clear that you want your child’s genuine feeling of gratitude to blossom into free and open expressions of thankful appreciation.

Perhaps the most powerful way to begin teaching your child to feel and express gratitude is by letting yourself feel and express your gratitude for your child.  While you may feel very annoyed by your child’s behavior at times, you actually care more about your child than about his behavior.  There is really nothing more important to you in this world than your child’s healthy, happy presence in your life. Beyond this, you want your child to treat others well, to make responsible choices for herself, to fulfill her glorious potential.  Becoming clear about what you most appreciate relative to your child instills in your child the feeling of appreciation and motivation for the very same things.

Far too many adults today seem far too busy to feel grateful about anything. We are too focused on getting the next thing done to appreciate what we are doing. We are so determined to get where we are walking that we take the power and pleasure of walking for granted.  We are so busy trying to control our children that we take their precious presence for granted. All of this models ingratitude for the child.

You cannot instill and nurture the sense of genuine gratitude in a child when you relate with the child in a way that causes the child to feel frustrated, misunderstood, and alienated.  Children are naturally most grateful for the loving, harmonious bond they experience with their parents.  To teach a child gratitude you need to understand your child well enough to relate with her in ways that cause her to feel truly grateful.  This does not necessarily mean buying her what she wants in the store, but sometimes it may mean exactly that.

When a child expresses ingratitude, like when he asks you to buy him another toy right after you buy him a toy, be very careful about the way that you respond.  When we express scorn for the way our children behave, our reaction causes them to feel badly.  When a person of any age feels miserable enough, he cannot appreciate anything.  Make it your priority then, when attempting to correct your child’s behavior and turn ingratitude into gratitude, to demonstrate enough understanding of and sensitivity toward your child to inspire his heart to remain open.

Before you direct your child to say “thank you” give her the chance to say it on her own.  If she forgets, be sure to make your correction kind and sensitive rather than impatient or condescending. Express in the tone of your voice your unconditional love and appreciation for your child.  Otherwise, your correction sends your child a mixed message that teaches your child not only to suppress feelings of gratitude and appreciation, but also to rebelliously display the very opposite.