Sunday, November 28, 2010

Teaching Gratitude to Our Children by Cyma Shapiro

Last week I discussed gratitude and its place in my life.  With the holidays quickly arriving, I’d like to address gratitude in my children’s lives. For me, it’s one of the most important traits I can pass on to them. But, until recently, I just couldn’t find the best techniques for doing so. Another check on the Internet (of course!), and I now have some wonderful ideas to pass on to you.

In Carolyn Pennington’s “3 Steps to Teaching Gratitude in our Children,” Pennington outlines how parents need to model behavior they want their children to have. “A simple, sincere expression of gratitude when the kids do something they were asked to do is always appreciated. Taking an extra moment to thank a sales clerk at the store or to tip your gardener for really doing a great job lets them know that gratitude is a standard in your home...and you are always looking to reward those that demonstrate quality work with praise. We must be intentional with our parenting. We must actively look for opportunities to teach our children if we want to instill these important virtues into their lives.” 
Here are more of her suggestions:

1Offer Selfless Service. In our home, we eat a lot of fresh produce. Sometimes we over buy. Rather than letting the produce go to waste, we toss a salad or something similar together and my husband and son run it to the local food bank. They love receiving fresh produce because most of their donations come in the form of cans and boxes. Allowing your children to see how grateful the volunteer workers are as well as those eating there can really make an impact on your child's life.

2)  Try Going Without. From time to time, have a family project that involves going without something important. For example, try making bread for a week rather than buying it, or try biking to any destination less than two miles away. A little sacrifice causes us to miss things that we take for granted and helps us be a little more humble and grateful for, or toy, or whatever. I find that the learning is more beneficial when this is done in a proactive way rather than a reactive way. For example if the child looses the privilege of a toy for disciplinary reasons...they child may not associate receiving the toy back with gratitude. He or she may learn the lesson that if I don't keep my room clean I lose the privilege of certain toys -a great lesson. Try "going without" as a proactive fun family adventure and be sure to express your gratitude for the usefulness of the items you went without!

3) Expect thanks, don't guilt thanks. "I work so hard every day for you, and I never hear a word of thanks." There is nothing wrong with encouraging a child to express gratitude or reminding them. In our home it is an expectation to say the simple words of "thank-you" for just about everything. But shaming children into saying it does not raise the vibration level of your home. They will feel bad about it, about you, about themselves...and probably resent you. Have expectations and allow your children to rise to the occasion. Invite them to say thank you. Tell them you appreciate their nice words and you will get more and more to be thankful for yourself!

Eliza Clark’s blog post on “On Shine from Yahoo” suggests the follow gratitude resolutions for the holiday season:
  • To set an example of thankfulness for our kids - we’ll remember to thank them for all of the lovely little things they do.  Children like being thanked.  Some so much that they’ll still say you’re welcome” if you forget. 
  • To make our thanks more than just pro forma  - telling people very specifically why we’re thankful makes them feel great.  This is something kids can learn to do too. 
  • To get our kids in the habit of working on thank you notes - preschoolers can decorate notes with stickers, draw designs, scrawl their names, affix stamps, etc.  Giving thanks can be a beautiful thing! 
  • To give our kids plenty of ways to help out around the house - this gives us more chances to thank them, and helps them comprehend a bit of what goes into all of the many things others do for them. 
  • To get the children involved in some kind of goodwill project this month - we might sort toys, clothes and books to give to charity, or put together a package for a sick relative. 
  • To express gratitude & amp; wonder for the big and little things – and to encourage our children, preferably at bedtime when they are snuggled under cozy covers, to tell us what they are most grateful for.
Carolyn Goode, founder of Parents International, unveils her list for teaching gratitude to teenagers (a life stage that I, for one, dread):
The first thing you have to do as a parent with an ungrateful teen is be clear.
One of the biggest factors contributing to the general lack of gratitude shown by teens these days is that they feel they "deserve" or are "entitled to" what they have or are given. As a parent it is your job to clarify the difference between rights and privileges. For example, you as a parent need to help your teen understand that while they have the right to be clothed, it is a privilege to have the name brand clothes, and sheer volume of clothes they have. This is just one simple example, there are many more. For example, it is their right to attend school, but it is a privilege to get to drive instead of ride the bus. One of the best ways to clarify the difference for your teen is to help them understand that they do not earn rights, but they need to earn privileges. Start making them earn it, and soon they will recognize the difference. It is when they receive too much for too little that they feel entitled.
The second thing you need to do is subtly help your teen more readily recognize their blessings.
If you want your teen to be more grateful you need to show them that they have a lot to be grateful for. If you sit them down and lecture them on how much they have to be grateful for, you can bet their mind will be on the things they don't have, or on their friends that have more, not on their blessings. However, if you take opportunity to discuss casually things like hurricane victims, or the homeless, your teen may start to see what they have. For example, at dinner you can casually start a conversation about the news story that indicated the number of homeless people found frozen to death after the first winter storm of the year. These dinner conversations will have a way of making your child more appreciative of your home than any sit down lecture where you tell them they need to be grateful. Hearing about and seeing people who do not have many privileges will help to make the distinction between their rights and privileges more obvious.
Third, you have to be the shining example of a grateful person.
If you want your teen to be someone who shows gratitude, be the role model. Show gratitude, recognize when it is shown to you, and be appreciative of opportunities for gratitude. It is important as we are a model of gratitude that we recognize and show gratitude to our teens, even if it is for something super small, like clearing their dishes after dinner. Show your teen, through example, to be grateful for the large and small gestures. It will rub off.

Lastly, do not expect too much too quickly.
Showing gratitude, and learning to be a grateful person is a process, and you need to recognize the steps your teen makes toward it, even if they are small, and do not get frustrated when they take a step back. Patience is key. Your teen will never learn if you blow your top when they mess up. While gratitude is a state of mind, and it takes a conscious choice to consider others and be more grateful, it is not something that you can change overnight in a selfish teen. So, be encouraging, and give them opportunities to be grateful, and eventually it will kick in.
Her conclusions: take each day to encourage your children to express gratitude; model thanks; establish family rituals involving daily thankfulness; volunteer; assign chores; write thank you notes; find your own gratitude.
Finally, excerpts from Laurie Meade’s “7 Easy Ways to Teach Your Children to be Grateful for What They Have:” 
  • Set the right example: It is better if you teach them by using the appropriate words at the right time (i.e. Thank you).
  • Teach it through role playing: You can play games with your children that implement the virtue of gratitude. Play the second chair and practice showing them how it feels to be on the receiving end of an unexpected “thank you.”
  • Teach by showing them how to be of service to others; even simple things such as holding a door for an elderly person. You would be surprised how many times a simple gesture can occur in places like grocery stores, doctor’s offices or shopping trips.
  • Make a list. An easy way to get them to make lists for what they are thankful for is to use “The Daily Gratitude Journal" software.
  • Show them how to be thankful for the little things in life. Although most of us would not consider heat and light little things, they are the simple things that they don’t pay much attention to.  
  • Teach them to see the good in someone they don’t like. 
  • You can even use a negative experience to teach them the value of being grateful. As you go through your day, show them the wonderful events going on behind the scenes that we all most usually take for granted – things like the police, the firemen and the clerk at the grocery store.
I love the Internet. I love these tips. I love being grateful and teaching my kids those values that I hold so dear. Thank you, dear Internet, for helping me be more grateful. What methods do you use? I’d love to hear from you and gather even more tips…

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