What we teach when we teach our kids about being grateful

I just listened to a CBC radio editorial, in acknowledgement of the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend, about the difficulty of teaching gratitude to children who have so much.

The conundrum for the radio host seemed to be that the more your child has, the less likely it is they will feel thankful, because they don’t know what it’s like to be without. It sounds like the station will dedicate one of its shows to explore this topic of how to be thankful. The host reassured parents there are resources available to help them to help their kids be thankful.


As the mother of three now almost grown children I have coached my kids, like moms everywhere throughout time, to say “thank you.” Thousands of times. Thank you for this, thank you for that. You have to teach them because often it does not come naturally.

And sometimes you are making your child say thank you for a sweater they will never wear, a toy they already own, a blob of turnip casserole on their plate they will not enjoy eating. You can make them say it, but you can’t make them feel it.

But who cares?

Saying thank you is a discipline of care, respect and honour toward the one who is  giving. It is an acknowledgement that something has been offered and received, usually without cost, if it’s a gift.

We don’t actually need to be thrilled to say thank you. Like so many other things, It’s not about how we feel. It’s about who we are thanking.

And that it seems to me, is the fundamental challenge for the man on the radio perplexed about how to teach a child who has everything to be thankful. It’s not about us. You say thank you to someone else. If you think that everything you have is because you are lucky, or clever, or born into the right family in the right country, it might be tough to conjure up feelings of gratitude that lead to saying thank you. Who are you thanking as you sit around your table groaning with food (both you and the table)?

You don’t have to first live in scarcity to feel thankful for plenty. Because it’s not about feelings, although, like every other act of the will, the feelings often follow.

When we say thank you we say: “I see you. I see what you have given, what you have done for me. And I thank you.”

Thank you Gramma for this sweater I may not wear very often. Thank you for the time you took to make this gross squash pie. And thank you God from whom all blessings do actually flow.

Karen Stiller is a senior editor of Faith Today. Check out our subscription deal

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