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The EVE of Thankful Children: Expecting, Valuing, and Encouraging Thanks

November 2, 2009
Times Observer
BY RACHEL MESMER LUDWIG, CHILDREN’S SPOA COORDINATOR

There is a French proverb that reads, “Gratitude is the heart’s memory”. It is my assumption that all PG readers have an interest in making a positive impact on the life of a child. In our roles of parent, grandparent, teacher, aunt, etc., we look to provide a positive present and future for the young lives who allow us our cherished role. As we all experience, time flies! Children grow up so quickly and although time passes one day at a time, the proverb’s reference to memory reminds me that today becomes tomorrow in a flash. We want our children to have the best, to have and to experience more than we had, but does this come at the cost of having unappreciative children who just expect to be handed things? I have had the conversation with our three year-old that “every time grandma comes to visit she does not have to bring you something.” Now I have to remember to have that conversation with Grandma and, of course it is not the “things” that matters in this relationship. It is a grandparent celebrating a precious grandchild. That celebration is the heartfelt memory.

There are so many things, people, and events which are out of our hands that influence our children. We do have control of the vehicle of ourself. We have our actions, words, behaviors as opportunities of influence. We can build traditions including celebrating birthdays, religious holidays and developing personal and cultural values. In November, our American calendar includes the celebration of Thanksgiving. This holiday certainly may hold different meanings for each of us but I hope we will all use it as an eve or EVE, a starting point, and make it more than just a day off.

Expecting Build thankfulness into every day. First expect it of yourself. Do this consciously and watch what happens to those around you. Take the risk of sounding corny and go out of your way to let others know they are appreciated. Try to be specific. This is important for children but also for adults to ensure that the thankee is aware of just what it was which has brought about our gratitude.

It can be a challenge to gauge how best to portray gratitude. If there is something I appreciate, most frequently I write (and usually snail mail) a card. You’re pretty much guaranteed to get a thank you thought in return and perhaps even a physical sigh of relief on the other end that it was not another bill in the mailbox. Writing also offers many options. There is the “Hallmark” option where some eloquent writer has captured your sentiments with just the right message in a card. You have the option of “hallmark plus” where you supplement the card’s comments to enhance and personalize the message and lastly there is the completely blank card for those who choose to fill in their own lexis. Any of these options can work very well coming from a child as well. Depending on maturity, a child can scribble, draw, or write a tailored message. Other more modern versions of writing are the photo card made online or in store or the “e-card”. These options do take some effort as well and will also be cherished. Even an email or text message can go a long way in letting someone know they are appreciated.

Help your child name their emotions – build a vocabulary of thankful expressions and phrases to bring out on-the-spot examples so that the obligatory becomes second nature.

Being thankful is not just saying the mandatory words “thank you.” I have witnessed plenty a parent making the demand for the compulsory “thank you” from their child and I have certainly said it myself. It’s nice to hear a child say these words, but it is truly the message behind it that is the heart’s memory.

But just as it is important to label praise for a specific behavior, and to help your child name the emotions they are experiencing. Think about explaining what “gratitude” is. There are lots of activities that can be done at an appropriate developmental level to express gratitude. I recommend going to the library or looking online for an activity this month. Simply searching “thankfulness”, “Thanksgiving”, or “gratitude” is a start. Read a book with your child with gratitude as the moral of the story. Make a thank you card, not for gifts but for people, just because.

Your heart will remember the thankfulness that is identified by a child. The honesty of a child offers the most touching message. It can be very meaningful to assist your child in labeling what it is they are thankful about. Some families do this during prayers at the dinner table or bedside. Others do it by drawing pictures, others via phone call. Remember to expect thankfulness of yourself first.

Valuing When putting together the EVE acronym, I did not experience the surprising complex angles that the word “value” brings out. This is a three for one! Value as a verb expresses the potential to “regard highly” or note the importance of.

There are also personal values that are developed early in life based on the people, experiences, and associations. As role models we have a position of importance as personal values can be very enduring. If gratitude is an ingrained personal value, this offers a lens on all we see.

Valuing is the “catch them being good” part. When a child is thankful in any of the ways noted above, point it out right away. Let them know you are proud of them and cherish the moment.

While the noun element of the word “value” also is essential in thankfulness. The noun holds the meaning of worth or importance and can also mean liking or having affection for.

Encouraging Valuing is very encouraging. Emulation can be as well. It feels good to be thankful. We want children to feel good, so here is yet another reason to encourage thankfulness. To serve as an example, live thankfully. When you see someone doing a good job – let them know. Fill out comment cards, offer kind words, pass a compliment to a manager – you’re building a person’s morale and also making steps toward a culture of positive attention. Repetition is encouraging. I think of it as acting out life’s courteous phrases; moving past good intentions to taking an action step to give thanks.

Being thankful has less to do with what you do or say when you receive something than it does to be gracious.

Swiss philosopher Henri Frederic Amiel’s quote about thankfulness is that “Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude…Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts”.

Rachel Ludwig works for Chautauqua County Department of Mental Health as the Project Director of the Chautauqua Tapestry System of Care. Rachel grew up in Warren and has been a member of the Chautauqua community since 2005. Rachel resides in Ashville with her husband Ben and son Logan.

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