Leading by Example: Teaching Kids to be Thankful

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24 Nov 2014


Thanksgiving is here. Gratefulness is very much a Jewish trait. Jew in Hebrew is yehudi, which comes from the Hebrew word lehodot, which means to thank.

A Jew starts their day by reciting the prayer of Modeh Ani, thanking G-d for a new day and a fresh start. Thankfulness and gratefulness are traits we need to cultivate, but we might have a hard time espousing it. But it is important that we do because any time you want to teach your child anything valuable you need to make sure that your role models the behavior. That means that if you want your kids to be grateful, you need to be practicing gratefulness yourself.

Once we have learned to be grateful and we take stock and appreciate all that we have, we can then talk in a non-confrontational way about it to our kids. Talks like these are best done when we are relaxed, around the dinner table or even in the car.

We want to avoid lecturing our kids: “You should appreciate what you have, there are people starving in Africa!” or “I can’t believe you, you are so spoiled, you never are happy with what you have. You are always asking for more!” This tactic just makes kids feel guilty, defensive, and angry, not more grateful.

It’s more effective if we talk about ourselves and what we appreciate.

The other day, I received a phone call from someone who was having a health issue and needed a recommendation for a doctor. I got off the phone visibly distressed and my daughter asked what was wrong. I told her that there was a family that was having some problems and they needed some help finding a doctor. “When I hear stories like these I just thank G-d for all we have,” I said to her. “I feel so grateful for my health and it helps me to remember to daven (pray) for our continued health and the health of our family, friends and all of klal Yisroel.”

But we don’t have to wait for these opportunities. It is also helpful to say:

“I love this winter coat. I am so grateful to have a warm winter coat!”

“I love our tree in our backyard. The colors of the leaves are so beautiful. I am so grateful to have something so beautiful to look at right outside my window.”

“I am so happy to have a dishwasher! I don’t like washing dishes and I am happy that I don’t have to!”

The indirect lessons taught through our own actions and words pack a bigger punch then a moral lecture.

We can practice gratefulness and teach it to our kids. I think it can boost our quality of life and our kids’ quality of life in untold ways.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.