I have been thinking a lot about how to instill a sense of gratitude in my kids. I started off by saying, “When I was a kid, a candy bar only cost a quarter!” OK, I am kidding of course. We all know that lectures and guilt are no way to pass on an understanding of gratefulness. True appreciation has to come from within. But, I believe parents can plant and nourish the seeds.
So, how do you plant those seeds in your little ones? There are 4 things you can do today.
Live it. About a year ago, my husband had been laid off from his job. In order to save money, we got rid of our maid. Like most families, we are very busy and cleaning the house doesn’t bubble to the top of anyone’s fun chart (sometimes I still really miss our cleaning lady). We were fortunate that my husband was only unemployed for a couple months but, it was long enough for us to realize something important. We found that working together as a family and taking care of a home we cherish, is an invaluable experience. Just telling kids how a family should help each other out and care for things that are important to them, is not half as effective as actually doing. As a team, we knock off all the chores in about an hour and a half – there are 5 of us. Everyone gets to help. Even Hayden, who is 4, pitches in with the mini-vacuum and dishes. You don’t have to clean your own house to live your values– find whatever is right for your family. What I hope to express is that ‘doing’ embeds a seed more deeply than ‘saying’ ever could. And as a side note, we don’t sing hi-ho-hi-ho while we work. As I said, no one in my family loves to empty trash cans. Sometimes we do rock out to Ce Lo Green’s ‘Open Happiness’. You can’t help but be in a great mood while listening to that song.
Be Genuine. If a family only talks about rainbows and puppy dogs, kids may not learn the difference between a challenge and a blessing. Well, they may but, they won’t think you ‘get it’ or ‘get’ them. Not all things are going to be perfect at all times, and that is OK. Even with challenge, we can be grateful. Kids need to know those around them have honest and similar feelings. If the file with a presentation you worked on for 2 hours got corrupted and you lost all your hard work, by all means, tell your kids you had a frustrating day. Being genuine builds trust and opens up a child’s heart to understanding. Your kids need to see how you react to your setbacks. Often, I react by saying I am grateful to be home and sometimes by admitting that all I have the energy to do is order pizza for dinner!
Go Beyond your Family. A friend of ours recently had a fall and was admitted to the hospital for broken ribs and a couple of vertebrae. Rather than talking about how lucky we are to have our health, the boys made cookies and handmade cards to deliver to our dear friend. Admittedly a very little thing in comparison and still somewhat close to home but, going beyond your family often develops perspective.
Remember Little People are Worthy. My youngest son is so demonstrative with his love. He will stop in the midst of playing with friends just to holler over his shoulder that he loves me. I can’t explain how grateful and adored he makes me feel. If his words mean that much to me, I had better make sure I use my words too – it is only fair, right? When Hayden snuggles with me before heading off to bed, I describe the scene in much detail as possible and how much I appreciate him. “Hayden, today when you were wearing your batman shirt, you looked hot and sweaty but, also like you were having a great time playing with Lauren. You stopped riding your scooter and looked right at me a said, I love you mom. You fill my heart with joy. I am one lucky mom to have a caring boy like you.” He always smiles. When I come home from work and notice the dishes have been put up, without my having to ask, I have been known to call all the boys into the kitchen in the same tone they may hear when someone is in trouble. Once everyone has arrived, I say, “I don’t know who did these dishes but, I really appreciate it. It means so much to me that you cared.” Huge smiles all around.