Before our daughters could speak, my husband and I would essentially speak for them. We would hold conversations with our children, but we would cover both sides of it. For instance:
Husband: Here’s your bottle, Clara!
Also, Husband: Thank you, Daddy!
Me: Time to change your diaper, June!
Husband: Oh, thank you so much, Mommy!
We did this often as a way for our daughters to start hearing and experiencing what conversations should sound like. We also did this as a way for them to start learning how to express appreciation and gratitude for even the most basic things.
Parenting can be one of the most thankless jobs on the planet. As mothers, we give of our bodies, minds, hearts, energy, and time. And while fathers can’t exactly birth those babies, they also give of their minds, hearts, energy, and time. And those little humans, for whom we do it all, aren’t born knowing how to express gratitude. It can be disheartening and discouraging to keep giving so fully of yourself with no utterance of a “thank you” to be heard. This is why my husband and I encourage thanksgiving constantly. We believe that teaching our daughters to regularly express gratitude will produce the following qualities in them:
There are times in life that others will do or give you things that you cannot do or get for yourself. It is important to recognize our limitations and to express gratitude to those who are able to help us in those moments. It is also important that our children recognize they are not entitled to all the things.
Mommy did the laundry? Let’s tell her thank you for making sure you have clean clothes and serving our family well. Daddy took you out for ice cream? Let’s tell him how grateful you are that he works hard to earn money for such a fun treat. Your teacher taught you how to read? Let’s tell her how much you appreciate her teaching you this critical skill that will make you successful in life.
When we teach our children to recognize the kindness that others show them, it encourages them to be kind to others. How will they know what kindness looks like if we don’t help them see when it’s being shown to them? When we instruct our daughters to tell someone thank you for something, we also explain why they should be thankful.
She shared her toy with you? Let’s tell her thank you for being so generous with her belongings! He invited you to play with him? Let’s tell him thank you for being so inclusive! She taught you how to play a new card game? Let’s tell her thank you for being so patient and encouraging!
Personally, when my husband thanks me for all I do for our family, it encourages me to keep giving and doing my best. Likewise, when I thank him for all he does, he is reminded how much we appreciate his sacrifices and efforts for our family. When I tell my girls how thankful I am for them making their beds and picking up their toys, they are quick to ask if they can help with something else. Showing them gratitude renews their little spirits and encourages them to persevere even when they are in the midst of a difficult or undesirable task.
I know that this is something we will have to continue teaching and encouraging until our children are grown. But we believe that instilling gratitude and appreciation for others in the hearts of our children will produce positive results in their lives and the lives of those around them.