Our little one came home with “12 Tips to Teach Gratitude to a Preschooler” by Sarah Martin. Children this age have a delightful ability to remind their grown-ups of the true beauty of gratitude. Meanwhile, caught up in the wants and the whiles of any given day, parents and children can be overcome by the powers of marketing and the sense of immediacy. It’s a powerful reminder to work through these 12 tips. Here are a few:
“Model your own gratitude” comes rather easily on good days. Showing gratitude and appreciation to others seems natural to us. Saying “thank you” to our daughter and helping her learn to do the same has been a pleasure. She accomplished the concept of thanksgiving before she has managed to get the “th” sound … as she still pronounces it “dank you.”
“Count your blessings every day” is sometimes a little tougher. In the rush of a busy evening with h-anger setting in (that’s a mash-up of “hunger” and “anger”), we can — at times — hurry through to shove our mouths full. Recently, she has become resistant to taking our hands to say or to sing the blessing before a meal. Still, the grown-ups continue to model the behavior and name what has gone well that day in our lives.
“Teach your child to say thank you — and to mean it.” We started young. She used to say, “dank ye,” which felt Old English or close to the German “danke.” But in the blur of preschool days, I find we need to remind her to use her manners.
“Resist the urge to give your child everything s/he wants, all the time.” This is a luxury for some and a trap for many. When a child whines in the grocery store for a particular cereal, cookie or treat and the grown-up still has many aisles to traipse and the check-out to navigate, a well-intentioned grown-up can give in to the whine. But delaying gratification and encouraging a child to wait is important. Saying “no,” or “not now,” can help a child to appreciate more deeply a “yes.”
I met a contrast to that once. It came in the form of a man near 70 years of age. I noted that at every church potluck he was always the first in line, without fail.
It came as a stark contrast. Usually, I see the guest of honor go first, or, perhaps in May, the mothers or graduates do. But this gentleman was first every single, solitary time, whether at our church or while visiting another.
Moreover, I noticed that he always piled his plate high, no matter the array of food available. Even one time when the meal was poorly attended and we could not count on a Miracle of Loaves and Fishes or the Stone Soup Phenomenon. This man took more than two servings on his first-in-line-plate. The servers of the meal got a spoonful of beans, a dry biscuit, a smear of butter and a half-cup of tea.
Curiosity stirred, and I took an opportunity to ask him about it. More than a decade later, I cannot recall how I posed it, but he told me of a childhood of deep poverty, of going without and being the youngest. He was always last in line and was fortunate to get three beans, a crust of cornbread and a swallow of milk. He promised himself he would never be last as long as he could make sure he was first. Formative years make lasting marks on our lives.
Jesus’ parable on the owner of the vineyard and workers he hired speaks here. “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16, NRSV) Who are we to question God’s generosity? May we simply accept it with gratitude.