Many parenting writers emphasize the importance of teaching gratitude to children in order that they be polite. While the concept of derekh eretz incorporates refinement and etiquette, a Torah outlook considers gratitude to be much more than just politeness.
Indeed, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (1892-1953) explains that the root of gratitude is the desire of a person to give rather than take. A ‘Giver’, explains R Dessler, feels compelled to express appreciation and give something back to those from whom he has received. He explains that it is through this trait of giving that we emulate our beneficent Creator and this is the meaning of man being created ‘in the image of God.’
As such, in teaching our children gratitude, we are teaching them, not only positive social skills, but cultivating their capacity to emulate the character of Hashem.
Rabbenu Bachya ibn Paquda (1040-1080) in his Duties of the Heart explains the tendency of human beings to take life’s blessings for granted. This tendency is already recognized in Ben Zoma’s famous definition of a rich person as one who rejoices in what he has. Accordingly, Chazal ordained that we say blessings in the morning thanking Hashem for gifts such as eyesight and clothing which we would otherwise take for granted.
Chazal were also motivated by the awareness that people sometimes do appreciate what they have but fail to appreciate Hashem as the source of these blessings. Hence, we recite a bracha on seeing a natural wonder such as an ocean.
As parents, we must concentrate on both of these components. We must teach our children to appreciate the wonderful things in their lives and also to appreciate God and the human beings who bestow those blessings upon them.
How do we achieve this? Here are some strategies:
Three Ways to Teach Your Children to Rejoice in What They Have
- Daily Gratitude
Make expressing gratitude a daily ritual. Ask your children to think of one thing each day that they are grateful for. You could do this in the car on the way home from school, at the dinner table or before bed. This app will help make it fun and engaging!
- Be A Role Model
Make sure your kids hear you talk of how you appreciate what you have. When you ask your children to think of something they are grateful for, be sure to mention something that you appreciate.
- Don’t Be Scared to Say ‘No’!
In real life, things aren’t so easy! Sometimes we are presented with demands to buy the latest gadget or toy. Indeed, Rabbenu Bachya writes that one of the reasons many fail to appreciate is that they are always focused on wanting more. We should empathize with our children and let them know that we understand they are upset. At the same time, it is important that our children hear us saying no. If we give in to their every demand, we teach them to repeatedly focus on what they lack rather than appreciating what they have.
Two Ways to Teach Your Children to Appreciate God and Human Beings
- Who Do We Appreciate?
At meal times, encourage the children to think of all those responsible for the food on the table – Hashem is the ultimate Source and we also must appreciate the farmers, truck drivers, supermarket employees and those who bought and cooked the food!
Take the time to discuss with your children who are the people they are thankful for or who have made life more enjoyable. Ask them about what those people do and what life would be like without them. Make sure that, on occasion, they mention people who are easily overlooked like the bus driver or the waste disposal team.
- Saying Thank You!
From time to time, brainstorm with children as to how you can best thank the people whom they appreciate. Bake or buy a cake for them, make them a video or send them a thank you note.
In general, make sure they thank the people who are often overlooked: the security guard outside synagogue, the store clerk, the waiter in a restaurant and (not least!) their parents.
And teach them to thank Hashem for the special people in their lives.
May Hashem help us and our children to walk in His path: to be givers and not takers.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.