Recently, my wife and I had this discussion:
- Why does our son seem so ungrateful, he thinks he is so much more important than anyone around him?
- Other people tell, us how wonderful he is but we don’t have the privilege of seeing that behavior at home
- Where did we go wrong, I feel like I have failed because I did not teach him gratitude, and that makes me sad?
- Do you think he realizes that Mom cooked this food for him?
- Do you think he appreciates that we both work to be able to provide this food?
- I wonder if it is possible to offer him opportunities that may help him discover that the world awaits his service, not the other way around
We had the discussion at the table, and right there, sitting and pouting because he was required to eat more vegetables than bread, was our son.
It got me thinking about this season, and how we can all do a better job of teaching gratitude for our plentiful lives before, during, and after Thanksgiving. Research has shown us that raising kids to appreciate all that is done for them can provide real benefits including greater life satisfaction, better performance in school, more adept at making lifetime direction choices, and even enhanced self-esteem, (which millennial parents believe is an entitlement). In fact, a study conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, reveals that cultivating gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25 percent. Other studies have shown that kids who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and family.
So what can a parent do that might impart this lesson? Here are a few ideas.
- It seems so simple, but if, each day, we actually say out loud, something that we are grateful for: “I’m so glad the weather has been nice for so long”, “I really appreciate those guys working on the highway-the road will be nice when they are finished”, etc. We set an expectation for our kids to notice things too.
- Don’t be sucked in by Black Friday, Buy Local Saturday, and Cyber Monday: Of course we want to give our kids everything they want, but when we do they often lose where it came from. It becomes about acquisition and not about function, fun, or appreciation.
- Allow them to earn their wants: They will want more toys, more candy, more of something. Give them the opportunity to share the responsibility for attaining it. Maybe through chores, maybe through saving allowance, they can help out. If they can share in that they will feel it is more earned, more valuable, and more important. Keep an eye on their screens too. At this time of year everyone is telling them that they NEED more toys, candy and stuff. A young mind often cannot understand the avalanche of marketing and can become depressed or overwhelmed by the “holiday spirit.”
- Give them an assignment; have them hand write a note to someone whom has been nice to them, helped them, or in other way made their life happier. Have them spell it out, why are they grateful? In fact make it an annual tradition. Having been a teacher and a coach, I cannot tell you how much it impacts us when a student or athlete says thanks. Give that gift this year, don’t do it in conjunction with a “gift for teacher” mentality, it’s not a holiday thing, it’s a “for-no-other-reason-than-I appreciate-you” reason.
- We have heard about how valuable the lesson is when our children have the opportunity to help a person in need; and I would never suggest that we do not do that. But what about helping out someone who doesn’t need help? What can be gained by helping a neighbor rake leaves, load a truck, shovel snow? It feels good to have someone say “thank you” when you know you didn’t have to do it, you just wanted to.
- Demand politeness and respect; I cringe every time I see someone’s child ungratefully receive a good deed. A door being held, a sneeze in public, or a person having to side step the child in the aisle at Target should be answered with a “thank you”, a “bless you” or an “excuse me.” I insist that my children carry out these all-to-uncommon niceties. One time I had my son go to the next aisle to apologize to the person that had to dodge his silliness in the toy department. I feel that strongly about it.
- I used to play with my children (still do) when they complained about something. “I hate these shoes” was answered with “How do you think that makes the shoes feel?” It usually, at least, starts a conversation to get to the bottom of the statement the child made, but I always believed that looking at things from both sides would lead to empathy and as a child I believed that all my toys had feelings, (I’m not sure I was wrong).
So, this year I have set a goal to have my children adopt an attitude of greater gratitude. How about this, let’s not tell the kids. How about all of us parents secretly plan on doing this together? Wow, imagine what we could do.