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Why gratitude isn’t something you teach—but help your children feel

The problem lies in thinking emotions are lessons to be learned rather than feelings that need to be felt.

Why gratitude isn’t something you teach—but help your children feel

We can command a child to say “thank you,” but this won’t ensure that they feel grateful or appreciative towards someone. The place gratitude arises from consists of more than just words. It is a matter of the heart.


The problem lies in thinking emotions are lessons to be learned rather than feelings that need to be felt.

While we want our children to demonstrate socially acceptable behavior, we also need to take a step back and consider what drives gratitude in the first place? Sometimes kids say “thank you” spontaneously. At other times, we may tell them to say thank you without considering if they feel gratitude. Why is this important? Because we can set our kids up to give caring performances that are devoid of any true meaning.

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How do we nurture a caring spirit in our kids?

Emotions don’t obey the same rules as learning facts or lessons. Emotions happen to us as we are stirred up by our environment and moved to act in a certain way. If we want our children to feel grateful, then we need to consider whether they have caring feelings from which gratitude arises.

A caring spirt is what underlies the capacity to feel warmth, love and appreciation toward others. What we need to nurture most of all in our kids is a caring spirt. But this is not done through lessons, rewards, bribes or threats. Caring spirits are created by adults who care for a child and form a relationship with them. In other words, a child’s instincts to care about others stems from being cared for by others.

We nourish our kids through our invitation for relationship and by giving them a sense belonging, sameness, significance, caring, being known and being with. Our job is to preserve their hearts so that they can feel vulnerable feelings and be moved by their caring. Hearts can get hardened and vulnerable feelings can go missing when caring repeatedly sets you up to get hurt.

It is the warmth of others that allows a child to develop their full human potential as a caring being. We need to preserve our children’s soft hearts as it is not only the birthplace of gratitude but is also required for the realization of human potential. To care is what makes us fully human and humane. We need to preserve and protect the roots from which gratitude arises by caring for our children’s emotions.

Preserving and protecting a child’s caring spirit

There is no problem in wanting our children to demonstrate manners, but there is problem when we put the focus on their behavior without considering the feelings that underlie them. When the actions they take, or the form they adopt, mean more to us than what drives them, then we can divorce their caring spirit from their caring behaviour. “Thank you” can be reduced to words that are said out of social obligations and expectations rather than from a place of caring about what someone has done. When we focus on our child’s performance we can convey that it is this that matters most of all, rather than how they have used their caring to give true expressions of gratitude. We often do this in with statements such as, “That’s a good girl–say thank you,” or “Be kind and say thank you.” A better statement would be, “Do you have a thank you in you to give to this person?”

Our preoccupation with manners can depersonalize and detach our children from the caring that should drive them. While we can command our kids to give caring performances they may lack any depth. In short, we don’t want to put “form” before “spirit.” We want to make sure there are feelings of gratitude in a child before cueing them to say thank you. Here are three ways to do that...

1. Prime their thank you by drawing out their caring spirit first

If we know our child is going to be in a situation where expressions of gratitude are expected, we can prime them to consider the context and what will come with it. For example, at their birthday party we can cue them before it starts to think about their friends and family members that will be there and how excited they are to see them. We can talk about the effort people will be making to come to celebrate with the child, as well as draw out how the child cares about their visitors. We can remind them that when they feel a “thank you” in them after someone has been warm or kind to them, that it would be appropriate to express this. Young kids can often get lost in the moment so you might help get them there with phrases such as, “Do you have a thank you for your grandparents?”

2. Orient them to appropriate ways of expressing gratitude

When we see our children are appreciative and thankful, we can cue them as to appropriate forms of gratitude. For example, we may tell them that a hug is OK if they feel like it, or a handshake or a simple thank you. Helping a child write thank-you notes can also help them understand the many ways we can show our appreciation towards others.

3. Preserve their caring spirit in the act of gift giving

A gift is meant to be a token of our caring and appreciation of others. Helping our kids consider what gifts they would like to give someone encourages the act to be one of true caring. Sometimes an emphasis on homemade gifts can help bring out their caring, as well. At Christmas I encourage my children to make a gift for everyone in their family that comes from their heart. Over the years this has led to many thoughtful and special gifts. It also preserves the meaning of Christmas as a time to offer caring and warmth to each other.

Gratitude is a matter for the heart but this hasn’t stopped us from trying to teach our children to feel thankful. When we divorce acts of caring from the feelings that should drive them we set our kids up to give shallow and superficial performances. When we nurture their caring spirits and help give it some form, then we can be assured their gratitude will be genuine and nourish all those who receive it.

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

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Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

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Balance board

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Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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