Showing children how to be thankful by being thankful

Thanksgiving is only a week away and I wanted to share some things that I am truly thankful for, and also give you some ideas on how to teach your child how to be thankful. We all want our children to understand what it truly means when they say “thank you,” but it’s not an easy job since many young children don’t truly understand the concept of being thankful. They are taught that it’s the polite thing to say when someone gives you something, but in the back of their mind they might be thinking “gee I wish I would have gotten more,” not unusual for a child at all.

Gratitude is one of the trickiest concepts to teach toddlers and preschoolers – who are by nature self-centered – but one of the most important. Sure, thankful children are more polite and pleasant to be around, but there’s more to it than that. By learning gratitude, they become sensitive to the feelings of others, developing empathy and other life skills along the way. Grateful kids look outside their one-person universe and understand that their parents and other people do things for them – prepare dinner, dole out hugs, buy toys. On the flip side, kids who aren’t taught to be grateful end up feeling entitled and perpetually disappointed.

We can begin by modeling for them what we are thankful for, and not just for possessions. If you are a religious person, you may take them to church and show them you are thankful to God for all things; rather it be in prayer, song, or just how you treat your fellow neighbor; your children will soon pick up on it. Myself, I am thankful that I have the right to worship the God of my choice and that he is always there when: I need someone to talk to, someone to comfort me, and the one that will continue to answer my prayers. I also pray that right is never taken away from me nor am I prohibited from practicing it.

How we treat our family and friends is also a teaching moment for children. You will have a hard time convincing a child you are thankful for them or other family members if you are constantly putting them down, yelling at them or just ignoring them. Talking about your friends/family behind their back or saying cruel things about them is also something parents/caregivers should be aware of. Children pick up on this quickly and will begin to see that you are nice to their face but then say cruel things when they aren’t there. Is this something we really want our children to think is OK? Myself, I am truly thankful for my family and friends. I have been blessed to have healthy children and grandchildren, who are free to run and play, think and learn, and who have enough to eat every day. I have been married to a wonderful man for more than 40 years. We have been through good times and bad, successes and failures, and still seem to be able to make each other laugh when most needed. We all complain about budget cuts, and rightfully so, but very few of us have ever experienced devastating hunger, cold because of having no clothes to keep us warm or no heat in our homes, fatal sicknesses due to not having vaccines, and a bleak future where jobs are even more scarce than in the U.S.

I have the luxury of playing with my grandchildren, having presents and a meal on holidays, and the security that a bomb will not go off during our celebration (though that seems to more and more of a worry). I have friends that have become like family that I know I can count on and are there to lend a shoulder when needed. They bring me laughter and happiness, remind me when I complain of what I don”t have of what I DO have, and cheer me up when I feel down. We hope our children see by our example and actions that they will show they are thankful for each other also.

By simply saying “thank you” to all those we should, we are modeling for our children. A simple “thank you” to the person who loads our groceries, the person who serves you a meal, the teacher who taught your child how to use their words, the doctor who gave you peace of mind when worried, and those caregivers who have changed countless diapers shows our children what it means to be appreciative of all those who provide a service or who took a few minutes longer to listen when we were concerned about our child’s cough.

I am truly thankful to have a job, a vehicle to get to my job, and the physical ability to perform my job. My dad had a saying, “if you can get up and out of bed in the morning and go to work, you should get down on your knees and thank the Lord!” I guess I didn’t always know exactly what he meant, but, as I age, I truly understand. Instead of complaining in front of our children, try to be more positive and grateful in front of them when heading out the door, this shows them that being able to work is truly something to be thankful for.

I am truly thankful that I live in a free country and thank the veterans and service men and women who have fought and continue to fight to keep it that way. Words cannot express how thankful I am to those who are constantly defending these rights and the rights of others. They truly do sacrifice all.

I am truly thankful for all the teachers, child caregivers, programs and agencies that support services for young children. You are given challenges everyday, you fight through bureaucratic frustrations, you wipe runny noses and change dirty diapers with a smile, you provide comfort and support for families and children who are going through rough times, and many times, receive little compensation for your dedication. You have a love for children that cannot be taken away and it shows in your commitment everyday to make things better for them. You look at the glass as half full, not half empty and keep pushing everyday. We need to encourage our children to thank those who have made such a difference for all of us, by us showing our thanks in front of out children, they will learn to be thankful for all also.

Please remember to be thankful for all the blessings you have, especially for your children. I know they are thankful for you.

Sue Junge is an Early Childhood Support Specialist for the Iowa River Valley Early Childhood Area and is a Thursday columnist for the Times-Republican. The views expressed in this column are personal views of the writer and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the T-R. For more information, please visit