Our family has a "Mo' Grat" ritual every evening when we sit down for dinner. In this case, it means "Moment of Gratitude" during which we hold hands around the table, take a deep breath, close our eyes, and for a few seconds reflect on who and what we are grateful for. We then share a moment in the day in which we either expressed or received gratitude.
This ritual has several wonderful benefits. It allows us to put the busy day behind us and relax and be present at the dinner table. "Mo Grat" enables us to really focus on the good things in our lives. Also, at least once a week, my wife or I ask our daughters what they are grateful for and we share with them what we were grateful for. To our pleasant surprise, they almost always are able to readily come up with people to whom they are appreciative.
Patrick and Denise are devout Christians and use prayer at dinner and bedtime to teach their four children about gratitude. As a part of their dinner prayer, the family thanks the Lord for all that he has given them. At bedtime, their children express gratitude toward three people who helped them that day.
To encourage their son Arnie to want to help and become the recipient of gratitude, Ted and Betsy use his chores as opportunities to not only model gratitude, but also to turn the tables on him so he experiences and gains the benefits of being the receiver of gratitude. When Arnie does his chores, for example, makes his bed, Ted and Betsy say "Arnie, thank you for making your bed. We really appreciate it." In turn, they have taught him to respond with "You're welcome."
Renny is a no-nonsense father who was raised by a no-nonsense father with certain expectations of civility. He wanted his two sons to learn good manners just the way he did. Their family has a simple rule: You don't get anything until you ask for it rather than demanding it, ask specifically for what you want, and then express thanks after receiving it. For example, you know how kids are when they want something, "I want more strawberries!" Demands like that just don't fly in his house. If his boys utter such commands, Renny gives him a look and says, "If you want something, what do you need to say?" His sons know the answer to their father's question: "Daddy, may I please have more strawberries?" and then, after receiving them, they must say, "Daddy, thank you for the strawberries." (or some variation on that theme). And after they receive what they asked for, if his boys don't express thanks, he takes it away until they do. As his sons have gotten older, they have gotten the message and he is regularly complimented by others for their manners.
Terry knows how hard his wife Jaime works to prepare interesting and healthy dinners for their two children, Casey (age four) and Ivy (age two). From five to six o'clock every day, Jaime is in the kitchen, reading cookbooks and following recipes so her family can have a tasty and enjoyable meal together. Unfortunately, their children's response to what appears on their plates is sometimes a resounding -- and hurtful -- "Yuck!" And even when their kids liked the meal, they were finished in five minutes and their mother received no thanks for her efforts. And Terry had to admit that he didn't always thank Jaime either. After a while, Jaime told him that she felt unappreciated for all of the time and effort she put into making dinner.
Terry decided it was time to take action. At first, he said, "Thank you, Jaime, for a wonderful meal" being sure his kids heard him. But even after several weeks of consistent gratitude, their children still hadn't gotten the message. He could have gotten heavy handed and demanded that they thank their mother for the meal, but he decided to see if he could make it fun instead. At the end of each dinner, Terry would lean toward each of his kids and, covering his mouth from Jaime's sight (giving the impression to his children that Jaime wouldn't be able to hear him and this was their secret), whispered, "Would you please thank Mama for dinner?" Casey, being older, got the message and would thank her mama immediately, often in a goofy voice with a funny expression on her face. Ivy was a little more reluctant and would resist Terry's whispered exhortations. But in a short time, she found her own way of expressing gratitude toward her mother. Ivy began to mimic her dad by leaning toward her mom, putting her hand on the side of her mouth, and whispering thanks to her mother. Then, a few weeks later, Ivy said thanks with sign language. Message of gratitude received, message of gratitude sent to their mom.
This blog post is excerpted from my third parenting book, Your Children are Listening: Nine Messages They Need to Hear from You (The Experiment Publishing, 2011).