Teaching Gratitude

Teresa Currivan, LMFT, Parent Coach

When my son was four, my step-mother gave him a box of books about dinosaurs. We were at a restaurant celebrating my step-brother’s graduation from college. 

When we were walking towards the car with his box of books, my son said to me with a great deal of deep feeling, “Mommy, thank you so much for these books.” 

What I said was, “Oh, those are from Grandma, you should have thanked her for them. Next time you see her you can thank her.” 

Obviously, I was trying to teach him manners. I was confused as to why he would say this to me, and not to his grandma. But also, happy that he was saying it at all. By age one, he could say “thank you,” and I remember him saying it often, because it came out as a sing-songy “dee-doo,” for a few months until he nailed it. My husband and I still say “dee-doo” to each other as a “thank you,” and a nod to our mutual past  – even though my son can’t remember it. But this “thank you” my son had been taught felt a bit transactional, as if to acknowledge that something had been received. I think that is where many of us are with our “thank you’s” – they are transactional and meant to show appreciation, but also used so often the sentiment can get watered down. 

On this day, his “thank you” was so clear and deeply felt that, in addition to thanking the wrong person, which was out of character for him, caused me to notice. 

The books were old, they had been my step-brothers’ when they were young, and the information in them was a bit outdated, as my son had pointed out upon reviewing them in the restaurant. He had received other books about dinosaurs that were far superior, one could argue. These had simple drawings and gave facts as well as a bit of a storyline. I think the books had tried to be accurate, and probably were for the year they were written. I explained this to my son in the restaurant in hopes that he could still enjoy them. But he didn’t need coaxing. To him, there was something very special about these books. 

I have a feeling that, as we were walking towards the car that day, he was feeling so much deep gratitude in his body and in his heart. You know, that feeling that wells up in you and almost feels like it is going to overwhelm you? Sometimes these moments hit us when we are least expecting them – when we are washing the dishes, or looking out at our unkempt yard, or when our teenager emerges from their bedroom in a good mood. I think what happened before he said thank you that day was this big feeling, and he wanted to know how to verbalize it, to share it somehow with the world. It’s as though it didn’t matter where these amazing things came from (although that is probably why they were so special,) and maybe even to whom he expressed this feeling, but he knew that the words “thank you” were the right ones to use.

So he did. He told his mommy in the best way he could. 

© 2020 Teresa Currivan Updated

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Teresa Currivan, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist, parent coach, school therapist, and founder of The Right Place Learning Center. She is the author of the book, My Differently Tuned-In Child: The Right Place for Strength-Based Solutions, and has published extensively on the topic. Teresa is recognized for developing the Currivan Protocol™ used to assess and treat differently wired learners. She specializes in helping parents and teachers to understand differently wired children’s needs which includes shedding light on co-occurring exceptionalities. Most services are available by Zoom video call. 

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