As we approach the week of Thanksgiving, we are reminded of the importance of acknowledging the blessings in our lives and giving thanks for the many things that are normally taken for granted. However, not everyone is fortunate enough to have a loving family, a warm place to sleep, food on their plates and good health.
This is why it is so important to teach our kids about gratitude and giving back to others. Research shows that “counting blessings [is] associated with enhanced self-reported gratitude, optimism, life satisfaction, and [a] decreased negative affect” in children and adolescents. Here are the top ways to impart this valuable life lesson on your children.
Count Blessings Daily
Giving thanks is not something that should just be done during the holiday season. In order for your children to truly be thankful for what they have, they need to regularly acknowledge the joys in their lives. Thus, every night at dinner or bedtime, discuss your family’s day. The good, the bad and the ugly.
This needs to be a family affair. Everyone gets a turn to express the negative aspects of their day and to acknowledge what was good about it. During these moments, implement active listening. What this means is that everyone is eye level with each other and the person talking should receive undivided attention. Therefore, remove distractions before these interactions take place.
Once your child has said their peace, then respond with understanding and support. Then, make sure that you and your spouse take a turn as well. Hearing other people’s points of view can help kids to better appreciate the things that they normally take for granted.
Provide A Realistic Perspective
Many times we don’t realize how good we have it until we see the struggles that someone else is facing. Taking your children to volunteer and finding ways to give back to others as a family are fantastic acts to not only teach gratitude, but also help them to understand the concept of empathy.
In the award winning novel To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch states “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” We always want to protect our children from the bad aspects of this world, but in order to gain perspective, you need to show them how life is not always rainbows and butterflies.
Thus, volunteer at a soup kitchen this holiday or take an angel off of the Angel Tree and shop for others this holiday season. Additionally, consider visiting a retirement home to spend time with those whose loved ones are not around or sign up for a Habitat For Humanity project.
During these experiences, make a point to explain how we all go through different struggles in life. Moreover, while we may not always understand why a person is upset or angry, it is important to take a step back and consider the big picture. As the saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey, than vinegar. Choosing to comfort and support others in times of need will not only make them feel heard and accepted, but it may also lead to surprising moments of friendship down the road.
Acknowledge Acts Of Kindness & Emulate Constructive Behaviors
People are more likely to reciprocate positive behaviors if they feel good about the endeavor. In order to facilitate these types of actions, one must first teach children about the importance of saying please and thank you. Nothing is guaranteed in life. When gratitude is expressed for daily acts, it is important to reward the child for the comment.
For example, if your child says “thank you for making my lunch today mommy!”, don’t just reply with “your welcome!”. Instead, say “thank you for being so considerate and helping to pick up after our meal. You make mommy so proud!” This exchange is the perfect example of gratitude. Your child recognizes a kind gesture, they share their appreciation with a compassionate sentiment, and in return, they receive a similar gesture.
Children learn through imitation. These interactions can help to build positive behaviors. Additionally, the best way to receive kindness is to give it first. Pay attention to the way you communicate with your child and your spouse. This will help to subconsciously motivate them to act the same.
Reprioritize Gifts This Holiday Season
This is the season of giving, not getting. We all love opening presents under the tree, but in order to teach gratitude and not greed, it is important to focus on the real reason for the season. For those celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah, think about limiting gifts and giving experiences instead.
Researchers at Penn State have found that “one of the reasons that buying experiences is better is because you always have that memory to return back to, whereas people adapt to things really quickly. It sort of sits on your shelf and you engage with it every day, and so it loses its shiny, bright newness. Whereas a memory, every time you refer back to it, is just as shiny and bright.”
This practice can also build the bond between family members and increase levels of happiness. However, not everyone has the budget for a big family trip. Therefore, think outside of the box. If a vacation is not in the cards, then buy tickets to the zoo, purchase bikes and make a point to go on family excursions together or plan to see a concert.
You can also buy a handful of board games and implement family game nights. The point is to prioritize family time. Moreover, when purchasing small gifts, ask your kids to ponder what they want, what they need, something to give and something to read. It is not about the quantity of gifts, but rather the quality of the time together.
Teaching gratitude starts with learning compassion, showing kindness and gaining perspective. We cannot always get what we want, but having what we need and recognizing that blessing is an amazing gift. Engage with your children and help them to realize these small graces. Then, try to give them opportunities to pay it forward to those less fortunate. You will be amazed at the impact it will have on their future.
“A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.”
-- Eeyore, Winnie The Pooh