Good morning, dear Swistle. I have browsed your previous posts but haven't found if you've ever touched on the subject of raising kids who are gracious and appreciative. Have you ever written about that? It's on my mind quite a bit lately, I just blogged about it, but I'm wondering your thoughts. I was raised by Yankee parents with solid New England values. I am trying to do the same. So hard to do in today's society when money and 'things' are available all over the place. The new year is going to bring a more simple lifestyle for my children. Anyway, thoughts? I'd love to hear it from you.
Oh, what a PERFECT topic for right after the holidays! YES, I struggle with this too, so I'll be interested to hear what everyone else does about it. I do a few things:
1. I enforce rote thank-yous. That is, if I give them a cup of milk and they don't say thank you I raise my eyebrows and say "Thank you...?" and they say "Thank you." Too often, unfortunately, I'm working on my mental to-do list and not paying attention to whether they say it or not, so I'm inconsistent with this.
2. I make them write thank-you notes for any gifts they didn't unwrap in front of the giver, and also for gifts received at birthday parties (because in that case the note is at least in part for the benefit of the parent of the child who gave the gift). This is more of a torment for me than for them, but I hope the investment will pay off. Young children (able to draw but unable to write) draw pictures and dictate words (HIGHLY COACHED but leaving funny phrasings intact) to me. Middle-ish children (able to write, but only slowly and with difficulty) draw a picture and write 2-short-sentence letters ("Thank you for the ___" followed by something complimentary about the item) with a signature. Older children (able to write book reports in school) learn the Full Grown-Up Thank-You Letter, which starts with a sentence or two NOT about the gift ("We had a great Christmas. I hope you did too."), THEN thanks the giver for the gift with several supporting sentences about why the gift is so great or how it will be used, then ends with "Thank you again!" and a signature.
3. I talk to them before gift-receiving occasions, laying out for them what's expected (saying thank you, faking it if you don't like it, not saying anything if you already have the item) and practicing it with them. I haven't noticed that this lesson always makes it through in the excitement of the gift-receiving itself, but again I'm hoping it's worth the investment over time.
4. When I talk to them as in #3 about what's expected, and I'm telling them about faking it, I explain WHY we fake it. The reason I give them is that we ARE grateful for the effort and thought and love the person put into it, and I go into so much detail on that I sometimes make myself TEAR UP with imaginary gratitude for an imaginary unwanted gift from an imaginary person.
5. I have them choose gifts for others. For Christmas they choose a present for each person who is giving them one. I usually start this at age 3 or 4, although Henry started at 2 and a half because he feels he must be included in ALL THINGS. We talk extensively about What The Other Person Might Like, and about how gift-buying is about thinking about the other person. I toss in a reminder that this is what OTHER people do for THEM, hoping to inspire empathetic gratitude when they open a gift.
Well, but will this teach actual graciousness, actual gratitude? I don't know yet, but I think it's important to teach them to go through the motions in the hopes that the feelings will follow---and that the explanations of the motions will point out to them where the feelings should be.
I'm eager to hear from other people how they teach their kids, or how they were taught themselves.