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How Do You Teach Kids Gratitude?

"Do you know all the kids in Africa who'd love to have the food you've got?"

Sound familiar? Like, maybe, your mom is sitting with you at the kitchen table and it's the 1970s or '80s?

My mom was not shy about letting us know how lucky we were. And while I hated the lectures back then, I'm finding myself doing some of the same on a regular basis. It's not that the kids are totally ungrateful wretches. They are simply kids, acting their own egocentric ages.

Sometimes, 6-year-old shows signs of "getting it." He began his quest to save money for "Help the Homeless" last month after the group put on a presentation at his school. And when he finds money on the ground, he sometimes puts it in his charity bank rather than his spending bank.

But short of taking them to the streets of a third-world country to see widespread hunger and poverty, how do you make your kids realize just how lucky we are to have so much?

Beyond the lectures, we try to simply talk about people who don't have as much as we do. For instance, I bought as many 1-cent and 5-cent school supplies as possible at Office Depot and Staples this past summer, and we donated all the loot minus what my child needed to his school for kids who couldn't afford supplies.

When 6-year-old came home asking why another child didn't pay for lunch at school, we talked about how some families don't make as much money as others and how the school makes sure everyone gets a good meal, which all of us need.

And we take advantage of the opportunities at our temple to give -- such as bringing in food for the needy on Yom Kippur and charity collections at Sunday School.

All that talk isn't quite the same as seeing, but it's a start. How do you instill gratitude in your kids? And what will you be giving thanks for this holiday?

Afternoon Update: I just ran across this video of 11-year-old Brendan Foster who died from leukemia last week. His dying wish? To "give [the homeless] a chance." His wish has sparked a food drive that has netted tens of thousands of dollars and truckloads of donations, ABC News reports.

By Stacey Garfinkle |  November 25, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Charity
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i think until kids reach a certain age they just won't get it. gratitude requires a certain amount of abstract thinking. talking about it & showing your children that you are doing something can help. i think it also depends on the temperment of the child. i can remember my grandmother talking about her own mother's charity to others & she wasn't talking in a good way. somehow the example of giving to others totally by-passed my grandmother.

Posted by: quark2 | November 25, 2008 8:34 AM | Report abuse

I've been a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters for over 5 years. And while my "little sister" is often on the recipient end of the community's giving, I've also tried to show her how/where she can help.

1) Consider taking a shift at your local mall's Angel Tree table, where people can select a needy child to shop for. Shifts are often only 2 hours, and you will meet lots of people delivering gifts, or picking a child, with lots of opportunities to talk.

2) Or consider a shift at the Salvation Army's kettle. You get to see lots of people giving a little bit, and yet you see how much that really means at the end of the shift.

3) Many churches, synagogues, and community centers hold a family volunteer day. bring your kids.

4) Keep your kids involved in your charitable giving. And this includes the "hand-me-down" bag, and sorting out old toys. If your kid is old enough to help select the toys he/she doesn't play with anymore, bring your child with you when you donate those toys. Talk about the causes you believe in - medical research, mission work, health care in Africa, whatever your passions are.

5) The most important thing, that I remember from both my own childhood, and from my role as a mentor, is to talk about the things you see. If you see a homeless person on the street, don't just tell your kid to look the other way. You don't have to give cash to every person you pass, but you can tell your kid about shelters, and even take your kid to a soup kitchen when he/she is old enough. If you drive through a bad neighborhood, talk about it. If you keep a charity box at home, talk about the types of things people need, and pick a charity together. I always wondered where the money we put in my tzedakah box went (always to the temple). But why not let that box/bank be a shared decision. If your kid loves cars, buy lots of matchbox cars at the holidays for other children. If your kid lives in the city and sees homeless people daily, consider a local soup kitchen or shelter.

Posted by: JHBVA | November 25, 2008 8:34 AM | Report abuse

We teach with our actions more than our words.

We support a child through WorldVision. We get information every month about "our" child and his community. Our kids read along with us, and we discuss how important clean water and sustainable agricultural practices are to his community. We write checks, but we also participate as a family in service projects to repair local homes, build wheelchair ramps, whatever gets us into personal contact with people who need assistance. Making poverty, and the recipients of our generosity, real rather than something or someone you throw a check at, can make a difference.

We share our struggles with our children, too. Our kids are more likely to be grateful if we display gratitude.

Posted by: CindyLouHoo666 | November 25, 2008 9:13 AM | Report abuse

My daughter is still very young. So we have just started the discussions about other people's situation.

But I do try to include them in the charity donations as much as possible. She helped pack a bag of canned goods for her school food drive.

She will also shop for us for her hat, glove and mitten tree.

She did help sort through some old toys to donate to charity.

I don't know if she really gets that as charity because we routinely pass her clothing on to others and receive hand me downs as well. I think she thinks is just the way things are.

But I think if you are open to discuss things and let them be a part of the process, they will eventually get it.

It takes a very long time for most kids to think of others and realize how good their life is.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 25, 2008 9:17 AM | Report abuse

i think there's a whole level of gratitude that could be improved before moving on to charity.

I will try my best to make sure that my children are appreciative for our conveniences and lifestyle. And above that, showing appreciating for gifts or acts of kindness received from friends or relatives. Thank you notes and sincere recognition are a must!

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | November 25, 2008 9:19 AM | Report abuse

To JHBVA: Our temple's religious school now has a kids panel to decide on charities to come to a tzedakah fair at the end of the school year. Then the kids all decide which charities they want their tzedakah money to go to right after the fair.

Posted by: Stacey Garfinkle | November 25, 2008 9:45 AM | Report abuse

We've started with "please" and "thank you", which I guess a lot of people think is just about manners, but it demonstrates that you are thinking about how what you do affects others. We also explain that when DD's clothes get too small for her, we take them to her old daycare center (which is also a welfare society) so someone else who doesn't have the money to buy new clothes, can use them for their children, we are also careful about taking as many things we don't need to the Salvation Army as possible, and explain why to DD.

We'll be giving thanks for the life we have here in the US, which we couldn't have had if we'd stayed in the UK, and we'll be explaining that to DD.

Posted by: Dopey | November 25, 2008 9:48 AM | Report abuse

How about not caving in and buying your children every thing they ask for? Make them work for what they get--chores, ya know.

Posted by: scarlett_85 | November 25, 2008 10:16 AM | Report abuse

I believe it is the television remote control that is giving children a sense of entitlement. Kids just don't understand that in the old days people had to get up and walk across the room to change the volume or channel. People felt grateful to whomever would rise to the occasion to perform this irksome task. Normally, it was the youngest member of the assembly or he with least clout. Not only did people learn gratitude, they also developed a sense of social hierarchy.

Posted by: davemarks | November 25, 2008 10:42 AM | Report abuse

How to teach gratitude? Two words: frequent beatings. After each one, they will display extravagant gratitude and eagerness to please as they seek to avoid the next in the series!

Posted by: mucus99 | November 25, 2008 10:43 AM | Report abuse

My synagogue has an annual Mitzvah Day where they organize a variety of volunteering and service activities. They provide options for all ages and interests, but it goes beyond packing cans and giving money. Growing up, some of my most meaningful lessons on gratitude and giving came from the many meaningful interactions I had with people in need on Mitzvah Day.

Posted by: galla2006 | November 25, 2008 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Well, I thought I was giving to charity on behalf of the telemarketer, but it didn't take me too long to figure out that all I was doing was paying somebody to call me at dinner time and chump me for more coin.

And they still call me once a week to thank me for my donation I made 10 years ago...

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | November 25, 2008 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I would love to get my 8 year old involved in service bagging up food at a food bank, or "socializing" cats at a shelter, or doing other charity work. DOes anyone know what kinds of places allow 8 year olds to help out (with parental supervision, of course)? I haven't found anything he and I can do together, other than donate money and clothes/toys. Thanks

Posted by: KEBV | November 25, 2008 11:28 AM | Report abuse

We are trying to teach our 6 YO about the community and about giving. Our synagogue has a women's shelter that we (the synagogue) operates. His religious school class took a tour of the shelter a month or so ago. We are all encouraged to become involved (bring a dinner, stay overnight, bring goods that people need).
When the kids grow out of things or things get a little shabby, we talk about putting it in 'the pile' to be donated to others who don't have what we have.

My husband takes our dog once a month to the children's hospital and to an old age home with a local group. My 6 YO is well aware of what is going on - and we talk with him about it all the time, how it helps the people there, how the children there are sick and they are very happy that he shares his dog with them. He is very proud that his dad does this and his dog does this (he tells everyone in the park what his dog does).

Growing up it did not appear to me that my parents were involved with charitable giving (they gave to our synagogue, sure, but I don't know what else). We are trying hard to have our kids involved in things around the community (I'm also on local community boards, so I many times leave after dinner for meetings), and hopefully it's working.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | November 25, 2008 11:45 AM | Report abuse

As a martial arts teacher I make it a point to teach parents how to educate their children about gratitude. Our students are taught that they should say Thank You for taking me to class and give their parents a hug.

We also have the children Adopt a Family for the Holidays and they purchase gifts for a family in need and then deliver those gifts directly to the family. The children seeing that there are less fortunate people in the world is the key to the success of this program.

Posted by: DennyStrecker | November 25, 2008 12:27 PM | Report abuse

"DOes anyone know what kinds of places allow 8 year olds to help out (with parental supervision, of course)?"

Ask if your FoodBank has a monthly kids/family day. Ours does.

Many churches also have monthly or quarterly service days in which they work on projects in the community, as a group. The average established charity is unwilling to take (or it's insurer prohibits it from taking ) on the liability of having persons under 14 do volunteer work, so you have to approach smaller ministries or charities or churches for these sorts of opportunities.

Posted by: CindyLouHoo666 | November 25, 2008 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Years ago, the kids and I spent time on a farm and they made the connection between animals and food (in fact elder DD became a vegetarian for a short period of time) but we got in the habit of thanking the animal who gave us our meal. Grace, even a secular grace, before dinner is a nice tradition and you (and your kids) can identify things you are grateful for that make sense to them at whatever age.

Posted by: annenh | November 25, 2008 1:13 PM | Report abuse

"Years ago, the kids and I spent time on a farm and they made the connection between animals and food "

Posted by: annenh | November 25, 2008 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, I tried this once and now my son salivates every time we visit the zoo.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | November 25, 2008 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I think it's "doing without" that creates an appreciation for what one has. How about taking the kid(s) to a homeless shelter to volunteer some time and to see how people not as fortunate as you have to live.... no room of your own, no toys, maybe no TV, etc. Then go home and have a discussion about what it's like to have to live like that and then live an experiment for a week or some other agreeable timeframe. The kid(s) get to choose what they have to do without relative to your discussion. Since they choose what to do without (and maybe for how long), this is not a punishment but an experiment.

Posted by: PakeMommy | November 25, 2008 1:40 PM | Report abuse

I don't know that you can "teach" gratitude. I think it's a feeling and they have to be experienced.

For me, the best thing is to work on my own gratitude. Then I tell them what I'm grateful for, and just as importantly I act that way -- particularly towards them.

I am grateful that you told me about that note from school so I could help you do that project before it was due.

I am grateful that you remembered you left your coat at day care before we wondered where it was.

I am grateful that you were not hurt when the scuffle broke out in the lunchroom.

I have no idea if they will grow up to be grateful themselves, but it sure makes me feel better.

Posted by: RedBird27 | November 25, 2008 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Many outdoor community groups allow children - park or trail clean-up, fixing up a playground, etc.

There are also many places where you can prepare treats at home and deliver them - places like the Ronald McDonald House and many shelters appreciate having people come in to deliver something they've made at home.

Also check your local children's museum. The Richmond Children's Museum recently held a volunteer fair, for families to find volunteer activities they can do together.

And I don't know if they still do it, but the Kiwanis used to have a "happy hat" program (I don't remember what it was really called). They provided hats made of fun fabrics and decorations, and kids could decorate them for children in the hospital. This would be a great activity to do at home with your kids, or as part of a scouting or youth group activity too.

And don't forget "adopt a grandparent" programs. Many senior's homes really appreciate having young people come visit - talking to the residents, letting them read books together, etc. It can be a great way to also strengthen a relationship within your family, as your children see how much everyone appreciates a visit, a hug, a smile, etc.

Posted by: JHBVA | November 25, 2008 3:04 PM | Report abuse

"But short of taking them to the streets of a third-world country to see widespread hunger and poverty, how do you make your kids realize just how lucky we are to have so much?"

How about taking them to the bullet-ridden, poverty-stricken streets of a local neighborhood? You don't have to go to Sri Lanka or Guatemala to find hunger. A very wealthy friend's dad did this for him one Thanksgiving, and he said it changed his life. He spent last spring break giving legal aid to Katrina victims in NoLa instead of partying like so many students did. And he happens to be one of those wealthy, successful people who you would never know were wealthy unless you knew them really well.

Posted by: Monagatuna | November 25, 2008 3:07 PM | Report abuse

At 6, my step-son gets that some people don't have things. We used Wish Upon a Hero to give some pictures he drew to a young boy that wanted to get some mail. He was really excited that he could help out a little boy that was sick. He was even more excited that the little boy sent some pictures back.

Unfortunately, he also gets the fact that things cost money and he doesn't have a lot of things precisely for that reason. He also gets the fact that we all work round the clock (he has at least one parent working every day of the week) so we have food on our plates, roofs over our heads and clothes on our backs.

The great thing about children being 3 and 6 is that they haven't yet gotten consumer driven in terms of having to have the lastest and greatest. SS's favourite game (which I am about ready to hide) cost 50 cents and came from a thrift store. We just went to a church sponsored clothing giveway and he dove into the boxes looking for clothes that he liked that would fit him. It didn't seem to phase him in the slightest that it was used.

We do the best we can to show the kids that we should help others that are worse off but when they are already on the lower end of the scale... it makes it difficult.

Posted by: Billie_R | December 1, 2008 10:06 AM | Report abuse

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