The Gratitude Attitude
Do not underestimate the power of "Thank You" notes to help kids learn to appreciate the good that others do for them.
Dear Mr. Rosen,
Thank you very much for working so hard to organize the baseball league. I know you put a lot of time into it, and I really appreciate your hard work making all the schedules and getting all the coaches. The uniforms were really cool. I hope we can have the league again next year.
This was the only note Mr. Rosen received after organizing the baseball league for 50 neighborhood boys. Sure he got a bunch of verbal thank you's, but Joey was the only one who took the time to write a note.
Why is Joey different? He has a mother who thought about how to raise an appreciative child and trained her son to write notes.
Why is Joey different? He has a mother who thought about how to raise an appreciative child.
When he was too young to write he drew a picture and his Mom helped him with the words. Now at the end of the school year Joey writes thank you notes to his teachers. He includes in each note one thing he especially appreciated about this particular teacher (she cracks good jokes) and one thing he appreciated being taught (the unit on reptiles). Joey also writes notes at the end of the summer vacation to his camp counselors.
His counselor invited him to go swimming with him one day after camp was over so that he could learn how to dive. His first grade teacher told him she still has the note he sent her. And when the head of his baseball league had an extra ticket to a Dodgers game, guess which kid he called?
With all this positive feedback, Joey enjoys writing these notes. He is learning that people like to be appreciated, an important component of building healthy relationships.
IT DOESN'T HAPPEN ON ITS OWN
How many times have you said in exasperation, "This kid has no appreciation for a thing I do?"
If you have ever felt this way about your children, ask yourself, "What have I done to instill the trait of appreciation in them? Have I actually thought of a game plan to teach this trait or do I expect that somehow it will materialize on its own?"
Appreciating others is a skill that anyone can learn. Children can be taught to look more carefully at those around them and to focus on the many benefits they receive from them.
Appreciating others is a skill that anyone can learn.
Ideally, parents should start with very young children, helping them to notice details and pointing out all the good that people do in general. This also teaches children to have what we call in Hebrew an ayin tov, a good eye.
When kids are encouraged to look for the good in others, even (and especially!) those they don't particularly like, they become more positive individuals who can find something nice to say about most anyone.
If we don't want our kids to be critical and negative, we need to realize that we have tremendous power to create the opposite.
- Train your children to write thank you notes at an early age. They can write to teachers, counselors, coaches, anyone who gives them gifts (including grandparents) or the family friend who takes him to the circus.
- Notes are important because they demonstrate and instill a higher level of appreciation. You have to think a lot more about what the person actually did for you since you want to write more than one line -- you have to fill the page!. Help your child notice the details.
- Before bed, ask your child to name two things he or she appreciated today. (This will work best with younger children; you may get weird looks if you try this with your teen, but better late than never!) Then you share two things you appreciated. Be sure to include things the child did, such as putting something away, asking a good question or waiting patiently for something. Talking about what you appreciate about each other will help you build your relationship with your child as well.
- Have a "Family Appreciation Meeting" at dinner one night a month, perhaps on a Friday evening. Go around the table and have everyone say one thing he or she appreciated about each member of the family that month.
- Be a role model for your children. If you could use a little help in the appreciation department yourself, then you can't expect your children to be overflowing with gratitude. Start writing notes and pointing out all the good that people do for you. Thank the mailman and the garbage men. Say out loud, "Whatever would we do without the garbage men! Do you know how awful it would be if they didn't come every week!" Just because someone is paid to do a job doesn't mean we shouldn't thank them.
- Help your child see a positive trait in someone he dislikes. Don't do it in the heat of the moment when he is telling you how much he hates his teacher. Teach him that everyone has good points to appreciate and that it's important to consciously look for them.
- Point out wherever you go all the good that you see people doing: highway workers who help us have a smooth ride, doctors and dentists who take care of us, cleaners who get out a nasty stain. There are so many people who help
make life easier and more pleasant for us!
- People are not naturally appreciative. We can't be annoyed with our children for being ungrateful if we have not taught them how to get into the "gratitude attitude".