- Gratitude: Teaching kids to appreciate what they have!
Kids, by nature, are not always the most appreciative human beings. More often than not, they want what they think everyone else has — and that’s not always possible or even necessary.
The whole purpose of gratitude is to reflect on what we already do have and to be sincerely thankful for it. That includes family, friends, pets, abstract things (like health, happiness, warmth, love), as well as material things (like shelter, food, clothing, toys).
Teaching gratitude to children is not easy. Depending on what stage they’re going through, your child may feel very entitled and self-centered at the moment. (If not, you’re lucky.) But if so, no need to fret. There are a few tricks I’ve learned over the years that will show you just how to teach kids to be grateful (at least a little bit):
- Keep an “I’m Grateful For…” journal. Every night, before your child goes to bed, ask him or her, “What are five things you were grateful for today?” Write them down. Talk about them. Maybe even make up a bedtime story involving them. It will help your child focus on positive things. And the bonus? They will have pleasant thoughts before lights go out.
- Volunteer with the less fortunate. No matter how much or little your child has, someone will always have less. Make an effort to help those with less. Find places to volunteer where children who are the same age as yours are welcome. (Better to call first to make sure.) Some examples may include soup kitchens, homeless shelters, churches, nursing homes, your local Red Cross office, and food or clothing banks. Helping others is the best feeling in the world.
- Display your own thankfulness. Show your child that you, too, are grateful for all you have. Saying “thank you” for even the smallest things shows genuine appreciation. Sending thank you cards for a gift received is a vital practice. Praying together, saying grace before meals or simply hugging each other are more displays of gratitude. And particularly on Thanksgiving, having each person around the table say what they are thankful for could be the start of a beautiful tradition.
- Give less a try. Once in a while, try doing without something everyone in your family takes for granted. Walk to the corner store instead of driving your car. Bake a loaf of bread instead of buying it at the bakery. Use candles at night instead of lamps. These acts of simplification will introduce a new appreciation of things most of us take for granted.
- Do some role playing. If the concept of showing thankfulness is still difficult for your child, try acting out specific instances when someone displayed true kindness. While you’re at it, also show how they would feel if one of their own acts of kindess did not receive any recognition. Actions do speak louder than words.
Teaching children to be thankful is a delicate art. You don’t want to be forceful, but you also have an obligation to raise kind, appreciative children who will eventually grow up to become kind, appreciative teenagers and adults. That’s the reward of it all. And the world thanks you for it.
Suggested books about gratitude: