Written by Bethany Todd, in collaboration with Laura Barr
In the month of December, when my children are constantly re-creating new Christmas lists, begging for gifts, asking for more candy, more treats, and just more, more, more, I’m reminded; I need to teach my children gratitude. My kids certainly do not have enough gratitude. And, neither do I. Every November and December, I try to create a thankful chart or ask the kids to describe something their thankful for before bed. But, I feel like it isn’t really working; my kids don’t seem more grateful. A few years ago, The Wall Street Journal reported on understanding gratitude, describing the value of teaching it to our children. But, how do we teach our children to be grateful, genuinely grateful?
New Ideas for Teaching Gratitude
Meditation and Mindfulness
I talk about meditation and mindfulness a lot. I love it in theory, but rarely do I slow down my busy schedule enough to actually do it. I’ve finally designated a time for it at night before bed. The kids are asked to meditate with me. We are still, silent, and breathing together. We empty our minds and body. Sometimes we breath things in and out. For example, we might breathe in gratitude, breathe out selfishness. Breathe in good feelings, breathe out bad feelings. This practice has been magical for me and is hopefully doing its work to slow the kids down and appreciate the little things, the nothingness even.
Getting Kids Involved in Giving and Giving Them Less
In The Atlantic article by Jenn Choi, Jenn writes about how her children were more grateful if she literally gave them less; gave them less and got them involved in the process. She discusses how many parents do most of their shopping online and kids don’t see or understand the value of the things they are given. Children expect what they want with no real understanding of the cost; this makes them naturally ungrateful. Choi provides an example of how she took her children to the Lego store to teach them this lesson. She normally buys them a lego set online. This time, she took them to the store to hand pick legos that fit into a provided container. The result was that the kids valued and were more grateful for their legos. It was the least legos they had ever gotten, but they were a part of the process; they understood the value of them. Choi’s article is very relate-able with some practical tips. Take the time to click the link above and read through it.
My husband asked me yesterday (yes…we are last minute holiday shopping), how much do we want to give the kids? This question was so simple and seemed like an obvious question to ask but it stopped me in my tracks. How much did I want to give them? I was so excited about all my great ideas for the kids but was it too much?
When we give our children less, they are more aware of what they receive. This awareness makes them remember and appreciate the things they have. I remember one Christmas, my children celebrated 4 times with different sets of grandparents and friends. Everyone thoughtful gave our children gifts and we were grateful for their love for our children. But by the end of Christmas, the kids literally could barely remember hardly anything that they had received. It was simply too much to remember. Therefore, without remembering it all, they had nearly no gratitude. Last year, we took a break from our traditions and spent Christmas with my sister. It was one celebration with much fewer toys. My kids were just as happy. My daughter was so pleased with one gift, she hugged me like 7 times, saying thank you over and over. I’m reminded of this as I contemplate how much to give the kids this holiday season. I’ve decided to give my kids less and to have this hard discussion with grandparents too; to give us less. It’s hard for them and for me, but I am reminded that while the holidays are a time to relax and take a break, we never really take a break from teaching our children life-long lessons like gratitude.
Comparing and Modeling
It is natural to compare what we have or don’t have with others. When we engage in comparing, we forget what we already have. We can get sucked in “the grass is greener” mentality and lose our gratitude in the process. This happens with our children also. When we hear our children engaging in comparing their gifts with others, we can use the opportunity to talk to our children about what comparing is, how it works, and its consequences. Making children aware of comparing can help them to identify it and control it. Removing comparing primes children for gratitude.
As we immerse ourselves in the holidays, let’s be role models of gratitude and continue to consider and learn new ways of teaching our children to be grateful.