Christmas is a season that’s associated with giving and expressing gratitude. Charitable donations are at their peak, numerous people volunteer in soup kitchens and food banks, and countless families support those who are less fortunate in their community. As parents, we see this as an opportune time to teach our children about gratitude. But instilling a sense of gratitude in our kids should extend beyond the Christmas season since, in order to raise children who are content, grateful and generous, it really is a year-round effort.
Few parents would argue that we want our kids to show gratitude. For many, this is part of being a “good” person. Our hope is that our children say thank you for the things they receive (and mean it) and offer a courteous thanks to people that perform small and random acts of kindness. Teaching our children to be polite and to say thank you at the appropriate times is a worthy – if not challenging – endeavor as a parent. But gratitude is so much more.
Manners and being polite are actions we can see on the surface, but true gratitude is an attitude that permeates a person’s heart and mind and is, in turn, reflected in their actions.
When you think of it this way, it becomes apparent that our attempts to teach our kids what gratitude is and to have it take root in their hearts is an undertaking which requires thought and ongoing, purposeful action. While there’s no guarantee our hard work will pay off, there are certainly habits and approaches we can adopt in order to give our efforts the best chance of success.
Learn To Say No
It can be really tough to say no to our kids. We don’t like to see them disappointed. While giving in to their every request (or most requests) may save us from having to deal with complaining or frustration in the moment, it typically backfires on us in the long run. It can get to the point where our children expect to get want they want and heaven help the mom or dad who dares to stand in that child’s way.
If we say yes to our children each time they ask for something we are not teaching them gratitude. How can kids be thankful and truly appreciative for what they have if we indulge their every desire both great and small? Of course, this doesn’t mean we say no to every request in order to make a point. After all, we want to do special things for our kids. My point is we need to avoid raising children who simply expect their every whim will be catered to.
If we want our kids to really understand gratitude then we, as parents, need to show generosity toward other people. We can talk about gratitude to our kids, but they need to see it in our own lives. While a person can show generosity for many reasons, a truly generous person gives of his or her time or money because they are content and grateful for what they have.
It can be easy to be generous when times are good. The real challenge is to give when our finances are tight or we’re pressed for time. Of course, we need to be practical and, if necessary, adjust what we give in order to meet the needs of our family. However, generosity in times of uncertainty can speak volumes to our kids about contentment and gratitude for what we already have.
Be Mindful of Your Spending
Kids can be very perceptive. They can see the inconsistency between what their parents say and what they do. If we are trying to teach our children what gratitude is and then go about spending our money on the latest and greatest styles, electronics, cars, and so on, we could be sabotaging our well-intentioned efforts. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with buying new clothes or a new TV. However, when it becomes a habit – so much so that hardly a week goes by when we haven’t gone shopping – it may speak more about our dissatisfaction with what we have then our contentment and gratitude.
Give Your Child Responsibilities
One way to help ensure our children are not “me” focused is to give them responsibilities around the home. Yes, this means giving them chores. I’m talking about meaningful chores – not just busy work – that make a real contribution to the state of the home.
This can be a tough one because some of us are pretty particular about how things should be done around the house. We’d rather do it ourselves and get it right the first time then deal with something substandard. Trust me, with some patience and time, a child can master whatever task we give him or her. The idea is that our kids don’t come to expect things will simply get done around the house. It will also help them to appreciate the work that gets done and the effort it takes.
Gratitude is a mindset that stems from one’s heart state. In a world bombarding our kids with messages of “me” first, it can seem like an uphill battle as we work toward molding the condition of our children’s minds and hearts. Since this is the case we, as parents, need to be constantly mindful of our own attitudes and actions, consistent in our message and example, and patient in how our children respond.