Sure They Say Thank You, But Do They Mean It?

When you’re a parent, there’s nothing like hearing your child complimented. It reaffirms your faith in your parenting and proves that your child is the wonder you think he or she is. My husband and I are always receiving compliments on how polite our children are.

Our five year old and our three year old almost always say “May I please” when asking for something. The baby isn’t talking yet, but I’m sure he’ll follow suit. Without fail they say “thank you.” They are learning the more subtle ways of being polite too – keeping their opinions to themselves and not talking about others.

I’m really proud of them for their aptitude in this arena. But some days I wonder: do they know what it all means?

Specifically, do they know the true meaning of “thank you?” Have they learned gratitude?

Gratitude is important always, but this time of year it seems especially important. Christmas is a time when children are bombarded with gifts and also with messages about those less fortunate. So it seems the ideal time to make a little lesson in gratitude.

My son was complaining the other day that we weren’t buying him a toy he wanted. Fed up with this refrain, I led him to the computer where I found images online of impoverished children. I showed him pictures of children as young as him working at making bricks; pictures of families living in scrap huts; pictures of children with torn rags for clothes; even a picture of a child dying of starvation.

I explained to him that all the things he takes for granted each day - food, clothing, shelter, the freedom to play, the right to an education – were things many children don’t have. I snapped my fingers, counted to three, snapped them again and repeated. I then explained to him that each time I snapped my fingers, a child died. They died because they had no food or no medicine or because their parents couldn’t keep them safe.

He sat on my lap, wide-eyed and listening, asking questions about what he saw. I then showed him pictures of children receiving the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes. I pointed out the joy on their faces. I explained to him that they were so happy for a little shoebox that was filled mostly with things like a toothbrush and a facecloth, maybe a couple of small toys or some hard candies. I explained that the little treats like a small toy or candy that he asks for, and often gets, every Saturday are received by these children once a year – at most.

I said “look how happy they are, and for so little. Do you think you could be happy too?”

“I’m mostly happy,” he replied. “If I had just one more toy I know I would be all happy.”

Sigh. A lesson learned? I know he listened and he’s asked about those pictures since, but I have to wonder how much sunk in.

My column next week will be about teaching your child gratitude. I have some ideas of my own, but I wonder what you have to say? Do you think your child understands gratitude? How do you teach your child to be truly thankful?

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