Teaching Children Appreciation

How do you teach children to appreciate life's everyday things? Teaching your sons and daughters to merely say "Thank you" in response to gifts and acts of kindness does not teach them to fully appreciate something they have received. It does teach them to say those two aforementioned words, but without knowing the true meaning behind them. When you give your children the the verbal prod of "What do you say?" when your goal is for them to thank someone, that further diminishes their understanding of true appreciation.

Appreciation comes from the heart. Appreciation is kind and generous and involves the feelings of the party that extended the gift or kindness. Appreciation is unselfish. Appreciation makes the giver and receiver feel great -- and that is practicing good manners.

When you say "Thank you", you acknowledge that you are not alone in the world and that all you have comes from your connection to other people. Saying "Please" affirms that you need a connection to others in order to get what you want. The only person you never say please or thank you to is yourself.

As an instructor of adult and children"s etiquette and self-presentation skills, I know first-hand that parents can often appear a little too proud after prodding their child to say an often empty "Thank you". Generally speaking, a child from age 4.5+ years should be able to make and maintain eye contact, say "Thank you" and state why they are grateful and thankful. If a child is old enough to participate in kindergarten classroom activities and play groups, she/he can express gratitude.

A child who communicates well in every way, yet refuses to express thanks and gratitude should not be allowed to keep a gift or accept the kindness that has been directed toward them. Ponder this for a moment. Being kind and considerate are the basic tenets of a polite society. Why would you allow your child to dismiss the efforts another person has made on their behalf? Each time a parent allows a child to fail in properly expressing appreciation a negative and undesirable behaviour is both learned and reinforced.

So how do you teach children to fully understand and express appreciation? You introduce it in a manner that is both fun and a challenge. Let's face it, kids love games. They love to have achievable goals that they can measure independently. These lessons are no longer a daunting or exasperating task when you play the Appreciation Game.

I play The Appreciation Game with my students who receive private etiquette and self-presentation training and I also pass along this game to parents who are amazed at how their children's skills in expressing gratitude seems to flourish as a result of playing it.

The Appreciation Game starts with the word "Thank you". Make the prize for the first round something the child loves. I will use cupcakes as an example. Every time within a given day or set period of time that your child says "Thank you" without your prompting or prodding them they receive one point (or cupcake). There are endless opportunities to say "Thank you" in the course of the day. "Thank you Dad for making pancakes for breakfast. Pancakes are my favorite." or "Thank you Grandma. I love the coloring book!"

If cupcakes are the selected prize and your child says "Thank you" eighteen times in one day, they will receive eighteen cupcakes. The great thing about using cupcakes or cookies for a prize is that your child will then be charged with sharing them with siblings, classmates and on play dates -- preferably with people in their own age range. The catch is that whomever they give the cupcakes to must of course say "Thank you." Through this exercise your child will see and value the importance of uttering a very simple phrase and how it feels when they do not receive a thank you in return.

Prizes may also include a penny, nickel or quarter for every time they say "Please", "Excuse me" or play nicely with their friends within a pre-determined period of time, and deducting pennies, nickels or quarters for each time an adult conversation is interrupted. Interpret and adjust the game to include the biggest challenges you are facing with your children.

It is a great pleasure for me to witness the effectiveness of this game. Involve all adults in the child's everyday life so your child knows that everyone is in on it and helping them reach their goal.

Learning to appreciate life, kind gestures, gifts and all that we receive as a result of our connection to others is a gift in itself. It opens your eyes to all that is beautiful and kind and helps you to determine whose company you want to keep. Kind, appreciative people are attracted to people with similar traits. It is without question the positive and fruitful path to positive, long-term, mutually beneficial relationships in childhood and throughout life.


By Susan_Joy_Callender