Parenting Q & A

Ellen Barrett, a parent educator at Family Connections for the last 15 years, fields questions from parents about the daily ups and downs of parenting. The same issues impact many parents. If you have questions for Barrett, e-mail her at

Q. My next door neighbors’ 7-year-old drives me crazy. He has every toy and gadget imaginable. He doesn’t ever want to share; and when we have given him birthday gifts, instead of thanking us, he critiques them (“I already have that,” “that isn’t the one I wanted”). I am worried that our son, who is three, will pick up on this. How can we raise a gracious and thankful child, instead of an ungrateful boorish one?

A.  With many of the gift-giving holidays right around the corner, it is the perfect time of year to be thinking about this. Although developing a sense of appreciation and thankfulness takes time and maturity, it is never too early to encourage behaviors that will help to develop some of those characteristics in your child. Here are a few ideas:

*   Model “thankful” behavior yourself. Thank people around you for even the simplest things, such as holding a door open for you or helping to clear the dinner table.

*   Express thankfulness to your child. “Thank you for picking up your toys.” Even young children like the way it feels to be appreciated.

*   Prompt thankful language from your child. Although children younger than three don’t fully understand the concept of gratitude, it is important to encourage them to say “please” and “thank you.” Children can develop the habit early, and as they mature they will be more likely to express it sincerely.

*   Include them in the process of writing thank-you notes, no matter their age. For babies and toddlers try taking a picture of the child with the gift to send to the gift-giver. A preschooler can draw a picture or dictate a note of thanks to you. An older child can write at least part of the note. Have them help address, stamp and seal the envelope and then drop it in the mailbox.

*   Create family rituals that demonstrate thankfulness. Once a week begin dinnertime by going around the table and saying what each family member is grateful for.

*   Give back to the community. Find a local organization to donate to or to volunteer. Collect hats and mittens in the winter or offer to feed the animals at a local shelter. Talk to your child about how some people have less and encourage them to help. “Some children don’t have mittens so we can give them some to help keep them warm.”

*   Read books together about being thankful. Books are a great way to share the concept of thankfulness with children of all ages. A few ideas are:

  • Biscuit Is Thankful by Alyssa Satin Capucilli and Pat Schories (infants and toddlers);
  • Little Critter: Just So Thankful by Mercer Mayer (3-8);
  • Feeling Thankful by Shelly Rotner (3-8);
  • All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan (3-8); and
  • Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Jake Swamp (5-12).

Finally, keep gifts reasonable. This is one of the easiest and most important ways to help develop thankfulness in kids. Your young child can be easily overwhelmed by too many gifts or unable to appreciate the significance of expensive gifts. It is hard to teach gratitude when children either get everything they want or can’t focus on the importance of a gift. Encourage friends and family to limit the gifts they give your child. Try asking them to make a donation to a local charity or community nonprofit in your child’s honor or suggest they go in together on just a few gifts instead.

Ellen Barrett

Ellen Barrett is a program director at Family Connections, a lifelong resident of Cleveland Heights and the mother of two.

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Volume 4, Issue 12, Posted 12:17 PM, 12.01.2011