Instill Gratitude This Thanksgiving and All Year Longby Carissa Andrews - November 26th, 2014
Thanksgiving is just about upon us here in the United States. As a parent, November is always a good month for me to count my blessings, and think up ways to instill a sense of gratitude and thankfulness into our children. We may not have every single thing we want, but we certainly have what we need. Our six (yes, six!) children range from 17 to not yet born. Some of them live with us, some of them continue to live in England, so it can be challenging to pass on our ideals of thankfulness to everyone in the same manner. My husband and I want each of our children to grow up with a strong sense of self, and a deep level of gratitude for what they have instead of the dysfunctional sense of entitlement that seems to be prevalent these days. The tricky thing is what works for one child, may not work for the other. Things like age differences, distance, and even cultural differences can make things more difficult. Each year we need to tweak our approach and find new and creative ways to encourage our children to grow in gratitude.
Here are some of the tips I've picked during my 10-year tenure as a parent, and 3-year tenure as a step-mom for instilling a sense of gratitude:
1. Gratitude starts with you.For a child to truly learn gratitude, they must first witness it in action. They might not immediately have a word for it, or understand your actions as a sense of thankfulness, but one day they will. If you can't put forth the effort to show gratitude in the world around you – to your spouse, your children, the people you meet on the street, or who serve you at a restaurant – your efforts to instill this virtue will be in vain. Children learn what they live – so teach them well through example.
2. Rein in the impulse to overindulge.All too often, kids these days are given whatever they want – whenever they want it. This really does damper the ability to be grateful for the everyday things that really make us happy. This can be especially hard for parents who have children who live far away from them, like we have. Materialism and consumerism abounds, but when we really dig deep, things do not make us happy. We need to stop teaching our children that they do. Things are not love. By always giving in to the immediate gratification of "things" our children are never taught the value of what they already have, nor the things that really matter. It's time to start making more of a conscious effort when it comes to saying "yes", versus saying "not this time, we are just here to look". In the end, both your children and your pocket book will thank you.
3. Thanksgiving gratitude that spreads.Start a new tradition this Thanksgiving. Before you eat, take a moment to have each person around the table share 1-3 things they are grateful for. It could be the yummy meal, the fact there is snow (or not!) on the ground, or anything your mind can dream up to be thankful for. Have each of the children participate, too. But don't stop there. Each night for a full year (you gotta give it some time to sink in, right?) as the same question of yourself and your children before taking a bite. This daily reminder of gratitude is a perfect way to start them thinking about what they are most thankful about.
4. Foster a sense of gratitude for the unfortunate events, too.It's easy to only see a sense of thankfulness in the things we really like and appreciate. But what about all those things that happen in life that aren't so peachy – but in the end, ultimately make us better people. For example, making a mistake? No one can learn and grow without the mistakes. Can you be thankful for a mistake you made? Or what about a car accident where no one was hurt? Find ways to express your gratitude and help your children think about their not-so-nice events in a new, positive spin.
5. Give back to those in need.Children don't grow up with a sense of what can be wrong in the world, nor how well they have it. They only know what they have experienced. We have to teach them these things. So when they reach an age appropriate level, start talking about poverty and how it affects others. Talk about natural and man-made disasters. Explain that not everyone is as fortunate as they are. To help foster this new consciousness, bring them to your local food shelter, soup kitchen, or something similar and have them pitch in their efforts. Let them see with their own eyes the faces of those in need. Not only does this develop their awareness, but it fosters a sense of gratitude in the service of others.
This year, one of the ways I wanted to bring the idea of gratitude to life is by setting up a Gratitude Tree in our living room. The idea is having a tree in your home and you write things you're thankful for on cut out leaves. Then you stick them on the branches as daily reminders. A Gratitude Tree can be something as simple as twigs brought in from outside and placed in a vase – to construction paper shaped into a tree and taped to the wall. My children are to an age now where they can each write out (or draw) things they are thankful for so I thought it would be a fun way to create a physical representation of our gratitude.
What ways are you going to bring in a sense of gratitude to yourself and the children in your life? Do you have traditions you use each year, or do you like to incorporate new ways to foster a sense of thankfulness? We'd love to hear your comments in the section below.
To all of our American friends, we wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!
Carissa Andrews is an passionate author and freelancer from Minnesotan with a focus in creative writing.