November’s focus at our son’s preschool is ‘What are we thankful for?’ We worked on his homework, the traditional hand print turkey with feathers he needed to decorate with things he is thankful for. This started the conversation about how lucky we are that we have loving family, a warm house over our head, food on our table, etc. We’ve been saying what we are thankful for before we eat dinner, while we drive in the car, and during our bedtime routine. The question is, what actually sinks in? How do we make sure our kids grow up to be grateful for the blessings in life?
A study in the Journal of School Psychology found that when young kids focus on what they are grateful for they tend to be more optimistic, have greater life satisfaction, and enhanced well-being. The Greater Good Science Center states that grateful youth also report more engagement in hobbies, higher GPA’s, and less envy, depression, and materialism. Kids who aren’t taught to be grateful end up feeling let down constantly and acting entitled…and who wants to have that kid?! There are so many things you can do to teach your kids how to become grateful human beings that it is imperative we start now. Here are some steps:
1. We (the parents) need to model grateful behavior. Express appreciation by thanking people who do nice or helpful things. For example, thank someone who holds the door for you or someone who lets you know you left something behind at the check-out counter. Thank your kids for doing chores around the house without being asked or being nice to their siblings. Ask them how it made them feel (probably great) and then explain that it makes others feel good to be thanked too. Thank your spouse (in front of your kids) for doing the dishes or taking out the trash. If your family consistently shows gratitude your child will adopt it.
2. Talk about what you are thankful for with your kids. Turn this into a dinner ritual where everyone goes around the table and mentions one thing they are grateful for each night. Talk about what made them happy today at bedtime to help them end the day with happy thoughts. Or mention it through the day as you see things that you feel grateful for. We do this each day on the drive to school. I ask my oldest what he is thankful for and he tries to come up with something new each time. Today he mentioned ‘my family, a warm car to drive to school in (since it was 30 degrees out), and the sun coming out’. Our kids need to realize that waking up each day is a gift, having our health is a blessing, and knowing where our next meal is coming from is a something we cannot take for granted.
3. Write thank you notes. Teach your kids how to promptly show appreciation to people around them. Help them with the words to express what it meant to them to get that great toy they were so excited about or having someone give them a sticker for being good at the doctor’s office. Sit down and help them write out thank you cards or drawings thanking people after their birthday party. Helping them practice the art of showing gratitude now will help instill the act down the road.
4. Enforce ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Make sure your kids don’t treat you like a door mat, expecting that you do things for them when they want it. This leads to entitled kids who think it is ok to act this way to everyone. Encourage them to thank anyone who helps them during the day, like their teachers, daycare providers, and you.
5. Enlist your kids help. Whether it is helping cook dinner or cleaning the bathroom, it makes them appreciate what you do for them. When kids have to pull their own weight they start to realize how much effort it takes to get things done and will appreciate your efforts more.
6. Replace ‘things’ with experiences. The holidays and birthdays can bring out the worst in kids, leading them to expect attention and gifts lingering after it is all over. Instead of focusing on buying them ‘things’ try giving your kids experiences. Bring them to the zoo or a play at the theater. Enroll them in a summer camp or sports activity. Show your love by spending quality time with them-not giving them toys they will get sick of a few weeks later.
7. Limit marketing exposure. Try to avoid going to the mall with your kids or watching TV commercials that will only make them want what they don’t have. Kids are constantly asking for new things so have them keep a list of what they want throughout the year. This teaches them to be patient and gives them time to decide what they really want.
8. Encourage your kids to donate THEIR things. Our kids have such generous people in their lives that they will never want for anything. Every few months we have our kids go through their clothes and toys and choose at least 4 things they want to give to kids who are less fortunate than us. Then I bring the boys to Goodwill and they see me give the toys to others who need them more than us. It helps them to give someone else something that they cared about or played with. We also had our kids choose which Halloween candy they really wanted to keep and then donated the rest to a dentist office that sends the candy to U.S. troops fighting overseas. My four-year old son walked out of the dentist office asking what else he can do to help people!
9. Encourage kids to help others. It can be as simple as helping an elderly neighbor or buying food at the grocery store for the food shelf. We signed our son up to help pack food for families in need at Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) when he turns five. FMSC does a great job of showing videos of the living conditions of those in need and explaining how much the food can help. Our son’s preschool participates in Operation Christmas Child. Each child is given a shoebox and told to fill it with clothes and toys with a boy or girl in mind of a certain age. He was so excited to find a fun ‘wow’ toy the little boy would be excited to play with and a shirt that he would like wearing. It was a great opening to talk about how there are others less fortunate than us and kids who do not have basic necessities like a warm house, car, or enough money to buy food let alone toys.
Teaching kids to be grateful is going to be a long, bumpy road but the sooner you start the easier it will be. We all want to know we raised someone who is going to enrich the world, not some entitled brat who expects things to be handed to them. Work at it and you will reap the rewards!
What do you do to make sure your kids are grateful for all they have?
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