If there are children in any facet of your life, whether you’re a parent, a teacher, an aunt, or just the neighbor next door, then you know the constant refrain: “Don’t forget to say thank you!” Humans are by and large selfish creatures: we’re born wanting, but once we have whatever it is we want, then we’re off to wanting something else. And we forget to thank whomever gave us the thing that we wanted in the first place.
Our culture clearly supports this wanting (and, along the way, this lack of gratitude). In Pope Francis’ recent TED talk, the pope uses strong language to denounce the “culture of waste” arising from our techno-economic system and our obsession with “money and things.” That obsession leads us deeper into self-seeking and self-gratification, and further away from gratitude.
Like most attitudes, gratitude has to be taught. No one is born grateful. But children who are taught to always say thank you, to acknowledge the giver of the gift? These are the children who will grow into responsible and caring adults.
And if you’re struggling to teach gratitude to the child in your life, then help comes from an unexpected place: the 16th century! That’s when St. Ignatius of Loyola, trying to teach others about the spiritual life, came up with the Examen that we’re discussing in another part of this newsletter. It’s the perfect way to teach a child to say thank-you to God.
You don’t even have to think of how to do it by yourself. Pauline Books & Media is pleased to offer one of our bestselling books for children, Before I Sleep I Say Thank You by Carol Gordon Ekster, to help adults figure out how to talk to their children about gratitude in a real and concrete way. The story is told in the first person, from the point of view of the child, and invites other children to share in the moment:
Mommy whispers, “Let’s take a moment to think about our day.” She takes my hands in hers and we close our eyes. Mommy goes first. “When I saw Ms. Nelson holding her groceries I wish I had stopped gardening to carry her bags. Next time I’ll help no matter what I’m doing.”
Now it’s my turn. “I’m sorry I didn’t pick tomatoes with you when you asked. Tomorrow I promise I’ll cooperate all day long!”
I get a ten-second hug. “Thank you, sweetheart. And for our blessings? I really appreciated you setting the table tonight. What five things do you thank God for?”
If the most important thing an adult can give to a child is a love of God and an understanding of the practice of being Catholic, then the number-one tool in your toolbox—as you probably already know—are stories. Stories enchant children, and teaching truths via stories is an ancient tradition, perhaps the most ancient of all traditions. Before I Sleep I Say Thank You will help you give the gift of gratitude to the child in your life, and perhaps remind you to always find gratitude for the events of your day as well!