Gratitude is a much bigger concept than good manners. Saying thank you is important, but true gratitude springs from being aware of everything that we have; how fortunate we are to have a good family, a home, enough food, people that care about us etc. In Hebrew, the Jewish value of gratitude is hakarat hatov, which means recognizing the good. This definition can be a great way to introduce gratitude to children, since it’s easier for kids to understand good versus bad than to understand what it means to be grateful.
Learning to feel grateful for everything we have and enjoy, is the first step to ensuring our children don’t take anything for granted. There are many ways that we can help them with this.
Lead by example
Our children watch us very closely and learn by our example. Show your gratitude whenever your child helps you, brings you something, or makes you a card etc. It’s also important to explain to your children how grateful you are to have them in your life and how important they are. This will help their self-esteem, but it also highlights the value of people and relationships over material possessions. Plus it's a great way to reinforce the Jewish value of honoring one's parents.
Talk with your children about what they’re grateful for each day, either at meal time or before bed. For young children, these can be very simple things, like a favorite toy or story, and they can become more complex as they grow older, e.g. relationships, joy, or a happy home. This can be especially useful when children are having a difficult time and it’s hard to see the joy in everything. Highlighting all the amazing things they still have will help them to feel gratitude despite the hard times they go through.
Limit material possessions
It’s so tempting to try to make your children happy by buying them lots of presents and gifts, but this can have a negative impact in the long run. If children are swamped with gifts they may not really value any of their possessions or learn true gratitude for them. They may learn to just want more and more rather than appreciate everything that they already have. One of the most important lessons children can learn - being happy with what you have - is also a Jewish value called sameach b’chelko, literally “happy with one’s lot.” Also, limiting the number of toys your children can help them to enjoy them more and you can get creative with them to learn new ways to play with their toys, by creating new games and role play etc.
Help them to earn gifts and treats
If there’s a special toy or something else that your child really wants, help them to work towards earning it. This could be done in several ways; a good behavior chart, helping out around the house or saving pocket money to put towards the cost of the item. Having worked to receive their gift, they’ll be truly thankful for it and value it all the more.
Thank you cards
Expressing thanks is important, and a good skill to have. If your children typically receive gifts on Hanukkah or Purim, encourage them to send notes or cards to thank people.
Help around the house
If your children help you by putting washing in the machine, or clearing away dirty plates after dinner, they’ll start to understand how much work goes on within the home and at school etc. It helps them to learn that things don’t magically get clean or tidy, and they’ll begin to appreciate and be grateful for the efforts of others.
Help them to help other people
Try and find ways that your children can help those less fortunate than themselves. This could be taking food to the local food bank, or taking food to an older neighbor when they’re sick, etc. Helping others and building awareness of other people’s situations can help children to truly value everything they have.
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October 22, 2019