When we teach our children to say “thank you” are we training them to act thankful or be a grateful person?
Most parents will respond, “Well, you have to start somewhere.” I agree. We do have to start somewhere. In the early years of our children’s life we begin to get them into the habit (which implies a routine to some) of expressing their gratitude. But at the core of that gesture is the recognition of being thankful for things rather than grateful for how someone impacts our lives.
I found Jeremy Olsen’s column “Can Forcing Kids to Say “Thank You” Backfire?” raised the important subject of gratitude and when and how it is expressed. Although the column referred to children’s expressions, it is a lifelong issue. I refer to the expression of gratitude like the exercising of a muscle group. Young children learn when and how to say thank you. I would refer to this episodic expression as the small, albeit important muscle.
When I took my yearlong journey to express extraordinary gratitude to those who have profoundly influenced my life, I referred to these expressions as a big muscle group. This type of appreciation was not for just one act but for a series of influences that had a big impact on my life. In my book, This Is the Moment, I write about this journey and strongly encourage readers to express their gratitude while everyone is alive and well rather than in a eulogy or worse yet, letting it remain unsaid.
What is central to both of these expressions is awareness. No matter where you are in your stage of life you should be conscious of what someone has done for you. Acknowledging their impact should be followed by an expression from you. From my experience, you have a lot of choices for how you share your gratitude. I think Mary O’ Donnell’s message to parents to teach young children to express thanks is a great start to developing a lifelong practice of being aware and showing gratitude.
How do you teach your children to be thankful and grateful? How do you demonstrate it to them and for them? I’d love to hear from you so please share the creative and thoughtful ways you are inspiring the next generation of appreciative and expressive souls.