IT IS very important for children to have gratitude, not just for the gifts they are given. It also helps them appreciate the people in their life and the blessings they receive. In a nutshell, it makes them happier.
Gratitude is not something you’re born with. It has to be taught when children are small. Practising gratitude often will turn it into a habit, says counselling psychologist Ivy Tan.
“It’s best to start at home when the kids are small. They can start with learning how to say ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’. They may not really know what it means at age two, but eventually they will be able to understand as they get older,” says Tan.
Most parents worry about spoiling their children with expensive gifts; that it will make them less grateful, but Tan says this is not the case. Being given expensive toys is not a prerequisite to growing up ungrateful. Parents need to teach them values as they shower such gifts on them.
However, if children are only showered with expensive toys, then there is a risk that they will grow up thinking that only expensive toys are good and that they don’t have to be grateful for the cheaper ones.
“Then you are teaching the wrong values and the children pick that up. That is one of the things that results in kids not valuing what they have.
“Buying things for kids is fine, it’s just what message that gets across to the kids,” says Tan.
Similarly, parents should be role models for their children because children learn from what they see.
Tan explains that children watch how their parents treat others and they will emulate what they see. Parents should then be careful of what they are unconsciously teaching their children through their actions. In fact, they can even consciously teach their children to respect others and be thankful to them.
“You can say, we should thank Kakak (in this case, the helper) for helping us cook tonight, and things like that. If the mum and dad don’t show it, the children will never know that this is an act of gratitude. Then the children will grow up feeling entitled and think Kakak is supposed to do the work.
“A sense of entitlement comes when children have not been taught how to appreciate. There are a lot of teaching moments as your children grow up.
“This is something children will pick up from adults around them, like being nice to people and being kind. Children will model what they see,” says Tan.
She explains that gratitude is also about teaching children to be grateful for what they have instead of always wanting more.
A family that is poorer can also bring up their children to learn gratitude in the sense that they have limited food and things, but they’re happy.
Monkey see, monkey do
“If you want children to be kind and generous, to be grateful, you need to start with parenting yourself first. You need to have your own self-awareness. If you are a parent who always complains about your children not being grateful for all the things you buy for them, then you have to stop and think, ‘what did I do?’ Did you instil a value of materialistic meaning to your children, or what did you do to make your children see toys as just toys and with no value to them.
“You can instil meaning in the toys, that toys need to be taken care of,” says Tan. She explains that if children don’t know how to appreciate a toy and just end up breaking it, then they should be taught the consequences of their actions. If you just keep replacing the toy, then you would be teaching them not to value the toy.
“When they learn to appreciate toys, then they would take care of them and they would be thankful to whoever bought the toys for them,” says Tan.
Apart from teaching children to say thank you and modelling gratitude, it also helps to explain to them why they should be grateful for something.
For example, when giving a child a book, you wouldn’t just say it’s an expensive book, take care of it well. It’s better to explain why they should take care of it – perhaps because Grandpa went to China and bought it, then carried it back in the plane, or because it was a hard to find item. Then they will learn why they need to look after the book and value it.
Tan questions what parents teach if they say it’s okay each time their children scribble on their books.
“What values are you trying to teach the children? That it’s okay to scribble on a book rather
than appreciate it,” says Tan.
School-aged children would understand better what a thank you means. They would know that a thank you means that they are being appreciated, validated and acknowledged.