Q. I just spent the last week orchestrating a birthday party for my 11-year-old daughter. She is very particular and the party had to meet her standards. I invested time and effort, and it truly worked out very nicely. But did I hear a "thank you" from her? Not one word! I want to tell my daughter that I am never helping her with an event again. What do you advise?
A. I appreciate your frustration. You invested energies in a project, and you would like our efforts to be appreciated. We all yearn for appreciation; for people to acknowledge that we shared our precious time and hard-earned money. No one likes to be taken for granted, especially not by their friends and relatives.
You expected your daughter to appreciate your efforts, and feel hurt and disappointed.
Can we assume that children, or anyone for that matter, will exhibit gratitude as an automatic response? Is gratitude an inborn feeling, or a learned reaction? And if it is learned, has your daughter learned it yet, and how can you help her learn it?
Lack of gratitude seems to be the norm, and proper appreciation is a refined, learned response. We can look to the Torah and find that ingratitude appears in our earliest ancestor, Adam, when he complains to God about Eve rather than extolling her virtues. (Gen. 3. 12; Talmud, Avoda Zara 5b)
Does this mean we are all doomed to continue this human failing, and never give or receive proper gratitude? No, but it does mean that if we want to rise above the human predisposition to ingratitude we have to work on recognizing when someone has invested on our behalf, and then express our appreciation.
As a parent you feel responsibility to guide your children to refine their character traits and you have probably made efforts in the past to teach them gratitude. We encourage a toddler to say thank you long before he understands the concept of gratitude.
Let us focus on two points:
a. How to respond to your daughter's omission of thanks for this party
b. How to redouble your efforts to raise her to be a grateful adult.
I would not dwell excessively on the aftermath of this party. Let the party be remembered as a success, and not leave a bitter taste in your daughter's mouth. Pat yourself on the back for preparing a successful party, even if it was not properly appreciated. This does not mean that you cannot mention to her that you were disappointed in her lack of thanks, but your words must be carefully planned so that they do not create a bitter aftertaste.
Wait until you calm down a bit, and then think of a comment that accurately expresses your frustration without condemning your daughter. You might say something like this:
"Because you are such a sensitive, caring daughter, I am sure you realize how much I invested in this party, and I'm sure you felt gratitude. But since I can't read your feelings, it is important to express them."
Note that there are some important facets of successful corrective criticism in this comment.
1. A pleasant tone of voice
2. An assumption that the person is upstanding
3. The verbalization of a concrete step that can be taken to rectify the situation
4. A dash of humor
A calm, thought-through response is far preferable to an emotional tirade. Imagine how your daughter will feel if you reacted impulsively, "You never appreciate me. I don't know what will become of you. You are an embarrassment to me and a heartless daughter. After all I did for you…"
Your goal is to teach your daughter to be more appreciative. Positive comments assist that goal while negative comments deflect you from your goal. Note that in the first response quoted above, you give your daughter a self-definition as a caring, sensitive person who slipped momentarily.
Here are several recommendations to teach gratitude:
1. Encourage your children to want to master the trait of gratitude, and develop a self-perception as a grateful person. Avoid labeling your child as ungrateful. Comment how happy you are that everyone in the family makes efforts to express gratitude.
2. Be a role model. Share personal stories with your children of times that you expressed gratitude.
3. Show that you value gratitude. In a non-direct, non-preachy manner, comment how nice it is when people show gratitude. "Did you see that Yaakov sent a thank you card so promptly."
4. Catch your children doing something right, and compliment them. "I am impressed that you thought to thank Grandma for the gift, even before I told you to."
5. Younger children can be rewarded for saying "thank you" without being prompted.
6. Let your children hear you expressing your gratitude to God for His bountiful gifts. Look for opportunities to comment on God's gifts -- a glorious sky, the gifts of health, prosperity and loved ones. The list is endless.
Best wishes as you continue to shape your adolescent into a grateful adult.