Gratitude — or a lack thereof — is something all parents encounter during the process of raising children. At some point, what parent hasn’t looked on with horror as a child blurted out a variant of “I don’t like this! It’s not what I wanted for my birthday!” or worried that his or her kids took the many blessings and privileges in their lives for granted?
While it’s fairly easy to drill polite responses into youngsters, instilling a true sense of gratitude in them can be considerably more difficult, says Princess Ivana Cortes, author of “A Simple Guide to Pregnancy & Baby’s First Year,” which was cowritten with her mother, Magdalene Smith, and her sister, Marisa Smith.
Cortes makes the point that children are not destined to lack thankfulness. There are concrete things you can do to make gratitude a meaningful part of your children’s lives.
Cortes shares tactics to help transform gratitude from an abstract concept to a reality that children live in and appreciate:
• Share your gratitude out loud. Especially for young children, the concept of feeling gratitude (as opposed to simply saying “thank you” when prompted) can be a difficult one to grasp. Youngsters will better connect to thankfulness when you explain what you’re grateful for and why. Look for teachable moments and narrate them as often as possible.
Openly expressing your gratitude and encouraging your children to do the same will grow into a daily habit of focusing on the good things in all of your lives. In turn, seeing the world through a thankful lens will create more positive attitudes and outcomes.
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• Explain that you can be thankful for people as well as things. Once again, especially if your children are young, they may not instinctively realize that gratitude can be felt for people as well as things. Make sure you model this concept throughout daily life.
You want to get your kids into the habit of valuing other people for who they are and what they do. And don’t forget to express gratitude for your kids themselves! This type of praise helps them develop positive self-esteem for the right reasons.
• Make gratitude a daily habit. All habits are formed through repetition. That’s why I recommend that you designate a time each day to name a few things you’re thankful for. Ask your kids to participate, too. Dinner and bedtime are both good opportunities for the family to talk about their day and to name things they were thankful for.
• Say “thank you” as often as possible. Sharing the things you’re grateful for within your family is commendable. But it’s even better to tell others when you’re thankful for something they’ve done. Let your kids see you saying “thank you” to the cashier who rang you up and bagged your groceries, to the sales associate who helped you find the light bulb you were looking for at the hardware store, and to your spouse when he reaches a box of pasta on the top shelf.
• Help the thank-you note make a comeback. According to some cynics, the thank-you note is a dying art — but that doesn’t have to be the case in your family. Buy a pack or two of generic thank-you notes or blank cards (they don’t have to be fancy!) and encourage your children to use them when they receive a gift or when they want to express appreciation for something another person has done.
• Don’t give in to the “I wannas.” You’ve heard them before: “I want this! I want that!” And you’ve probably also noticed that the more often you give in to the “I wannas,” the more frequently you encounter them. It’s fine to buy your kids the latest fashions, top-of-the-line electronics, and the toys they want more than anything in the world ... as long as you do it sometimes and not all of the time. Sometime the best word you can say is “no.”
• Encourage teamwork and community involvement. Pitch in! Thanksgiving, as well as the subsequent holiday season, offers many opportunities to volunteer on community projects for those in need. Try to find a way your whole family can give back: volunteering at a nursing home, collecting items for food drives, or helping to prepare dinners for the homeless.
Yes, encourage your children to enjoy Thanksgiving, as well as the fun, food, and festivities that go with it. But also take time to consider the true meaning of “thanks” and to think about how gratitude might look “in action” for your family. Raising grateful children is truly one of the best ways to create a brighter tomorrow, not only for them but for the world at large.