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Beyond the Wishlist: Raising a Thankful Child

November 23, 2011

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and with the holiday season around the corner, many children are more focused on their wish list than taking the time to reflect on being thankful.

Gratitude and empathy do not come naturally to children, says Dr. Harriet Smith, a clinical psychologist at Jacksonville Medical Center, and parents need to start teaching those qualities early.

"We really have to help children to understand being thankful and grateful, being able to understand the words 'please' and 'thank you.' What does that actually mean other than just words? Gratitude takes time to develop, and we need to do things to encourage it."

Smith says parents can best teach thankfulness through their own behavior. She advises parents to use good manners and language, and ask other adults in their child's life to do the same. Additionally, a child should receive praise when he or she shows thankfulness, she says.

Developmentally, Smith says, children are not able to understand gratitude and thankfulness until age 5 or 6.

Parents can lead by example by showing children how to help others. Smith suggests encouraging younger children to help collect gently used toys or clothing for donation, and for older children to volunteer to help those in need.

"When children can reach out and help others; when they feel that they're making a contribution, they feel better, they feel more empathetic, they feel more grateful and thankful and they believe that there's something that they can contribute."

Smith says reinforcing a child's good behavior and showing your own thankfulness can leave a lasting impression.

Les Coleman, Public News Service - FL