Thanksgiving thanks

Teaching empathy and caring from the beginning can set the tone for life.


By Candace Lindemann

Children's Author & Education Consultant

Candace Lindemann is a published children’s writer and educational consultant. She holds a B.A. from Yale University and an M.Ed. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. You can also find Candace blogging at http://NaturallyEducational.com. While Candace’s degrees prepared her for a career in education, she’s found that the best preparation for parenting is on-the-job training.

My daughter mastered "please" very quickly, but once she had what she wanted, "thank you" was quickly forgotten.  My son, on the other hand, loves to mimic saying "thank you" any time you hand him a crayon, napkin, or anything else but often forgets the "please."

And I think we've all seen the meltdowns in the store when Mom or Dad won't buy a new toy or when children are expected to share.

Most parents hope to raise children who remember to say "please" and "thank you," who share with others, who appreciate their blessings, who are considerate of those around them, who focus on relationships and experiences rather than on material objects.

A lot of this will come with developmental growth—selfishness is a survival instinct for babies.

Still, if you teach empathy and caring from the beginning with your baby, you can set the tone for the rest of their lives.

  • Monkey See, Monkey Do: You can talk until you are blue in the face, but what your young child is really noticing is what you do. Actions do speak louder than words. Experts believe that children younger than age 4 engage in positive behaviors as a type of play acting. They see the rituals of thankfulness, giving, and sharing as part of an adult game they mimic. In time, though, these behaviors become habit and ultimately a deep part of their character. The more they see you act with kindness and gratitude, the more they will mimic you.
  • Practice Makes Perfect: We want children to display genuine emotions, but remember that language is fairly new to little ones. They often appreciate some examples of what they might say in different situations. And a little role play practice will be fun and help your child feel confident. 
  • Give Thanks: When your child receives gifts, it may be tempting to whip out the thank you cards while he's asleep. If you involve your child, however, the experience will be a lot more memorable. Allow a toddler to draw a little crayon scribble on each card. A preschooler may draw or even write her name. If your child is verbal, ask him or her to share one thing he likes about the gift and then write that in the card.
  • Make Gifts Together: Bring your Thanksgiving hostess a child's handmade craft. Give children an opportunity to create simple gifts for friends and family during the holidays. More than any words, this will show them that it is the thought that counts.
  • Volunteer as a Family: Although it can be tough to find volunteer opportunities you can participate in with young children, there are ways to be involved as a family. Bring babies along when you drop off coats, school supplies, or books for a charity drive. Even older toddlers can help decorate and fill bags with items to donate. Have preschool-age children sort through toys and select a few to donate to children who have no playthings.