Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

23 Tammuz 5760 - July 26, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
A New Series Dealing with Everyday Issues

by Menucha Fuchs

Menucha is the popular author of sixty children's books, eleven of which have already appeared in English, and a new textbook Reader, "Sha'a Shel Menucha," for schools abroad.

An Attitude of Gratitude

How can we teach a child to appreciate what he gets? How can we train him to say "Thank you" and mean it? Many children actually do not know how to be grateful and thankful for all the good that is done on their behalf. They think that money grows on trees and that time set aside for them is a plentiful resource.

Self Training in Appreciation

Before we decide to instill some value in our children, we must instruct ourselves in this very area. Children are a race of imitators and when they grow up alongside parents who know how to be appreciative and grateful, they will emulate this behavior for they will naturally imitate their role models.

A small child studies his father and mother in everything they do. He examines how they interact with their parents, how they react to society around them and how they treat their own children.

It often happens that a parent will demand respect from his children, that they acknowledge every little thing they receive with thanks, but the parent, himself, may argue with his own parents and not show them due reverence and may not be in the habit of thanking them for what they do for him.

If a parent is lacking in appreciation, verbal and otherwise, how can he expect this proper attitude in his children? He has not set a precedent. This same principle applies beyond the immediate home. Parents who contact their children's teachers only when they have complaints and do not exhibit any form of appreciation for what the teacher does for the child throughout the year, are setting the example that complaining is obligatory, while accepting the good is taken for granted, no special thanks required.

When the child sees the delivery man come to his house, unload a box full of groceries and leave without hearing a single word of thanks, he absorbs the message that this is superfluous. A mother who does heap her blessings on the errand boy and brings him a glass of cold water teaches her children an important lesson in acknowledging a service and showing appreciation.

Our children do a lot in the house, whether they like it or not, realize it or not, of their own initiative or not. Wholeheartedly or halfheartedly, under protest. But they do it and they deserve the proper recognition and thanks.

A child who washes the lunch dishes is doing a service for the entire family. Does she not deserve a word of thanks for it? True, this is expected of her, and her mother asked her to do it and she cannot refuse. True, it was her turn to do this chore today, but a word of thanks is surely in place!

A child who grows up in an atmosphere of appreciation and thanks-giving is a child who is attuned to the obligation of acknowledgement. He will feel the occasional urge to go up to the teacher at the end of a very interesting lesson and say it in so many words. It is not only a question of politeness but of genuine feeling. He will acknowledge an excellent performance in day camp and thank the organizers or performers. He will also grow up appreciating his parents and thanking them for having raised him and for everything they do for him.

Training for Gratitude From Day One

Education in appreciation must begin from the moment a child is born.

A newborn infant does not contribute a thing. He is purely egoistic and at the complete mercy of his environment and those who people it. He is literally borne on the arms of those who care for him. He is fed, rocked, burped in the middle of the night, soothed, dressed and kept clean. He learns to demand and to receive on demand. With each passing day, he internalizes this lesson more and more. He is a recipient par excellence.

He thus learns that the more he demands, and the louder, the sooner he will receive whatever he lacks. And if he gives a big smile, his sister will take him out of his crib. He naturally comes to realize that he has it made: he has it "coming to him." Mother has to feed him and his older brothers have to spoil and give in to him. His relatives have to shower their attention on him and compliment him for everything, and when Tatty comes, he must look at him first.

This feeling and attitude is not at all desirable. As Jews, we believe that everything we have, everything we are, is an undeserved gift.

In order to decentralize a child, to make him aware of considerations other than those in his own orbit, of factors outside his own ego desires, we parents must learn to wean children from having their whims selfishly fulfilled. He must be trained in doing things himself, even if it is difficult at first. The less a person receives, the sooner he learns that every act of giving involves effort on the other person's part -- and that it also requires thanks.

Giving -- A Preparation for Maturity

A child must become accustomed from early on to give to others. When he gives, he feels how difficult it can be.

Parents who train their child in giving are preparing him for adulthood. Conversely, a child who becomes accustomed to receiving may grow up to be a bitter, dissatisfied person, expecting much more from life than he is actually receiving, while one who has, early-on, begun giving, will know that there are some things he can have and some not, and whatever he does get must be appreciated -- and the giver thanked. He will learn to understand the true significance of the words "Thank you."

Do Not Educate On the Spot

Appreciation must be inculcated as a way of life; it is not a mechanical or courteous `thank you' to an uncle for a birthday present or a grandparent for a sweet. A child must feel gratitude in everyday things that are done for him in any case, or things that others are also getting. When a mother gives her child money for a class trip, even though all his friends are also going, he should acknowledge a true feeling of thanks.

Children should thank their mother for serving a meal, even though this is her duty. Admittedly, it is difficult to express thanks for something so routine and while this should become ingrained as a habit with the child, the thanks should be genuine and not rote.

The time to teach a child to thank someone for a gift is beforehand, in the home. To prompt him at the time of giving, "What do we say to your kind aunt?" is not advisable. It will have no impact on the child and will be very forced and phoney. Surely the aunt will not appreciate such a weak thanks.

Chinuch does not come in a spray can: push the button and out comes the thanks. It needs prior preparation, discussion, repetition, true-life examples in the home so that when the time comes, it will be naturally forthcoming. And another thing: lessons should not be given in public and mothers should remember this.


Babies love to play give and take. This is the perfect opportunity to ingrain "Please" and "Thank you."

Small children love games of the imagination. As we play with them with their dolls or their toy cars and blocks, we can interject the magic words of "Please" and "Thank you." When a child forgets, we can pretend not to have heard him. "What did you just ask for now? I didn't hear. I think you forgot to say something..." "Ah, please. Now I hear you. Yes, of course." Even better is to say that the DOLL forgot to say "Please" and "Thank you."

Bonus No. 2

As Jews who acknowledge that everything is a gift from Hashem, we must frequently employ the phrase "Boruch Hashem" and mean it! We just bought a new appliance? Boruch Hashem! We must see Hashem's kindness in everything, big and little, and thank Hashem for it continually and out loud to convey this message to our children.

We must especially thank Hashem for our children, to their face! "Boruch Hashem that I have such a wonderful child like you! What a treasure you are!" Thoughts such as these frequently expressed out loud will sink into the child's subconscious to enrich him and train him in a perennial attitude of gratitude.

An excellent game we can play with our children at any given time, at bedtime, lunchtime, travel time etc., is: What can we be grateful for today? What can we thank Hashem for today? Children will come up with excellent ideas, especially after we show them that we can be thankful for every single little thing in life. [There is a popular children's song, "Odeh Lecha Hashem" which expresses gratitude for our two hands, two feet etc., things we always take for granted.] And especially, non-material things, even a baby's smile. Health, sun and rain, beautiful trees and flowers outside... The sky's the limit.

Extra Bonuses

THANK YOU NOTES. Children love to write little letters and to decorate them. You can write small notes of appreciation for some service they did for you and encourage them to write them to one another. Written messages are more lasting than verbal ones; they have a way of lingering in one's memory even after they get lost. They have the authority of a written word, something personalized, with a signature, more permanent than a word. Children who cannot write yet can still express themselves through drawing and perhaps, be taught to write their names, at least.

Going to a dentist appointment? Shopping? Are you leaving a child with a list of chores to be done? Don't forget to add "Thanks so much" at the end of the list.

Left a note on the door asking "Chaim -- please fetch Miriam from kindergarten"? Add the single word "Thanks." It makes a difference. You may be in a rush, but this is a worthwhile investment of your time...

Ed. note: When our kids were still small, we used to play a game "Mailbox." For about twenty minutes, each child would go off to a corner and prepare some letters with a small surprise or treat for each of his siblings involved in the game at that particular time. When they were all ready, someone would announce: "Delivery time," and everyone would deposit their letters in the `mailbox,' a shoebox or carton, and the mailperson would deliver the letters. It was a tremendous source of fun activity in the house, with small, usually used, gifts exchanged and "love notes" or "sorry notes" etc. written and read.


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