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Teaching kids to be grateful all year

It's important to teach kids to be grateful

It's important to teach kids to be grateful and say "thank you" all year, not just on holidays like Mother's Day. Here are some appropriate steps by age. Photo Credit: iStock Photo

It won't surprise Mom if she's treated to breakfast in bed Sunday, accompanied by handmade cards of love from her children. After all, children are expected to express gratitude on Mother's Day.

But does it have to be back to the role of unappreciated maid, chauffeur and party planner come Monday? Is it possible to train her offspring to act less entitled and show more heartfelt gratitude to Mom on the other 364 days of the year?

"Most kids respect and admire and are grateful to their parents, but they're not going to tell them that because it's a political relationship. That's like saying to labor, 'Why don't you tell management how grateful you are?' " says psychologist Michael Bradley, author of "When Things Get Crazy With Your Teen" ($22.95, McGraw-Hill).

But parents can help children express more often what is likely there in their hearts, experts say. They offer these suggestions:

FOR PRE-SCHOOLERS

-"In a two-parent family, it's the other parent's job to say, 'What are we going to do nice for Mommy?' " says Eva Ash, a Huntington psychologist who specializes in parenting. Dad can say, "Let's set the table for Mom or do something that will make her evening easier.' "

-Let children see Dad doing nice acts, such as bringing Mom flowers periodically. This should continue through the teen years. "As a dad, it's my job to be sure I'm thanking my wife for everything she does on a daily basis in front of the kids," Bradley says. "Modeling is the most powerful teaching tool we have."

-Ask children questions to help them identify feelings, such as, "When one of your friends thanks you for doing something, do you feel better?" Then say, "Mom is just like you. She really loves it when people say, 'Thank you for taking care of me.' "

-In addition to teaching the children to say, "thank you," expose them repeatedly to words such as "fortunate," "blessed" and "lucky" in your own vocabulary, says Hofstra University assistant professor Jeffrey Froh, who studies gratitude in children.

-Don't give too many gifts. Feeling entitled begins when parents anticipate and fulfill a child's every desire, says California State University adjunct professor Giacomo Bono, who studies gratitude with Froh. "It creates a bad pattern," he says


DURING ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

-"Gratitude develops from ages 7 to 10," Bono says. Children need to be able to understand empathy -- that somebody has intentionally done something for their welfare. Go beyond the automatic politeness response of saying "thank you"; discuss what a person does for them and have them understand that it cost the person either financially or in the sacrifice of time.

-Combat children's natural tendency to be self-centered by having them do volunteer work, Ash suggests. "You wouldn't necessarily think it's going to teach them to be not so snippy to you, but it teaches them that other people's feelings matter," she says.

-Don't be afraid to tell them when they've been ungrateful. "Say, 'What you said to me really hurt my feelings.' It's OK to let kids know their behavior has an effect on you," Ash says.

-Watch your own level of materialism. "Kids pick up 'the bigger the better,' kids pick up that when you have something more expensive or showy it's preferred," says Don Sinkfield, a mental health counselor in Valley Stream.

-When your children accomplish a goal, praise them but remind them who else helped them achieve -- the dedicated teacher or the parent who drove them to practices or study sessions, Froh says.

IN MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOL

-Show the same gratitude you expect from your tweens and teens, Sinkfield says. When they do something helpful, say, "That was great. I appreciate seeing you do that."

-Remind kids of what you are routinely sacrificing to help them, Sinkfield says. When they need to get somewhere, point out, "This is what Daddy must do on this day because of your need to get to soccer practice."

-Have them do a "gratitude visit" periodically with the parent. Think of something Mom or Dad did for them, write a letter about it and then read it to the parent, Froh says.

-Don't blow up when your child says, "Can I have a new bike?" and you think, "Why aren't you grateful for the bike I got you last year?" This is a kid's job, to negotiate for more, Bradley says. "Wouldn't you like a new car?" he asks.

-Don't despair; effusive gratitude kicks in later, especially when children have kids of their own. "I think it's unrealistic to expect they're going to be grateful for every little thing you do. They think, 'That's your job. You had kids, and you have to feed me and take care of me,' " says Julie Bakalor, a mental health counselor in Merrick and Huntington.

Bradley agrees. "Nature's payback is when our children have their own children. Then it hits them full blast."

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