How do we teach our kids to be grateful, especially when they have so many material things–even more than we may have had ourselves as kids?
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s about more than teaching them social etiquette–to say “please” and “thank you.”
- It’s about more than teaching them to share with others.
- It’s about more than teaching them to give some of their allowance to charity.
- It’s about more than lecturing them about starving people in another part of the world, in a vain attempt to manipulate them into eating their vegetables.
WHAT IS GRATITUDE?
“How do we teach kids gratitude?” is a question I’ve seen online, heard in casual conversation, and even asked myself. I’ve learned that, in order to foster gratitude, I had to understand that gratitude is a quality, and not a skill to be learned–like walking, speaking, writing, reading, and tying their shoes.
Qualities (attributes or character traits) are fostered, or cultivated.
Gratitude is defined as “the quality of being grateful or thankful.” To be thankful is to show appreciation for, or to give value to something that pleases you. I then concluded that, in order to cultivate gratitude in my kids, I had to first find out what they value.
“What makes you happy?” is a great question to ask. I have learned that my kids love video games and birthday cake. They love going to the park, spending time with their friends, and sleepovers at Grandma’s house. I know by the way they jump and shout at the mere mention of the following that they love movies, pizza, and hot chocolate. I don’t even have to ask to find out that they love going to the beach, and they love it when my husband and I tell them stories and tuck them into bed at night. I can tell what they value by the way their sweet faces light up at Christmastime when we decorate the tree, drive around to gaze at Christmas lights, and open gifts on Christmas morning.
I used to worry when I asked my kids what made them happy, and (after an excruciatingly lengthy pause) they responded with their favorite computer game, and a list of the toys they received as gifts for their last birthday. I worried–oh how I worried–until I learned that I don’t actually have to teach my kids to be grateful.
I can, however, cultivate an atmosphere at home that inspires gratitude.
3 FUN WAYS TO EXPRESS GRATITUDE
One of my favorite ways to cultivate gratitude is to notice–out loud–all the good things that happen each day. When I take the time to point out and express gratitude for even the littlest things (especially on the worst days), my kids notice that. Even when I’m not sure I’ve done a good job of getting the point across, I’ve learned that it really does sink in.
My oldest son and daughter have become quite good at finding the silver linings in the midst of their own hurts and disappointments–much better, at times, than their mama.
If, like me, you are looking for tangible ways to create an atmosphere of gratitude–here are a few:
Create a ‘gratitude jar.’
You can use any container you like for this. Re-use a sauce jar, or grab one from the dollar store. Add a cute label, and set it somewhere central in your home. Place a small notepad or a stack of small pieces of recycled blank paper and a pen next to it. Then, make a daily or weekly practice of writing down one thing that you are grateful for. Fold up your paper and put it in your jar. When your jar is full (or at the end of the year), you can look back on all of the good that happened.
Say your grace.
I grew up saying “grace” at meal times, and it honestly became a chore. I knew I wanted to continue the tradition of giving thanks before a meal with my kids–but I didn’t really think about how to go about it, so I defaulted to old habits. After hearing grace sung for the 1,000th time before a meal–I was convicted, and I helped my kids to create their own prayers. It’s such a blessing to hear about all of the things they are truly thankful for.
Sharing is caring.
I have learned that one of the best ways to express gratitude is to share with others. I admit that I am often too busy to stop and notice the needs of those who don’t live with us. This is a practice I want to be more intentional about this year. You don’t have to have a lot of money to bless others. Sharing your time can be so meaningful to someone, albeit costly.
Have no fear–there are some very simple yet effective things you can do that don’t take much time at all. Invite your neighbors or an elderly friend for a meal. The next time you bake a treat, double the recipe and give some to a friend. Double your dinner recipe and take a meal to someone who is sick, or had a baby, or lost a loved one. Make a few small care packages to give to the homeless the next time you are out running errands. Involving children in giving is a great way to inspire gratitude.
I have learned that, my kids are learning every day, especially when I am not intentionally teaching them something. It doesn’t take a major effort to foster gratitude in our home.
Most importantly, it all begins with me. Cultivating gratitude in my children is as simple as cultivating it in my own heart.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried any of these tips, and I want to hear your ideas as well!
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