We teach our kids to say please and thank you, but how can we instill in them a sense of real appreciation? How do we explain what gratitude is? I’m not talking about when they get a new toy or are surprised with a trip to Disneyland. Just like many adults who are only now learning the importance of being grateful for the big and small things in life, children can be taught to practice gratitude on the same level.
Slow it down
In this hectic world we don’t always have the luxury to take our busy lives down a notch, but when we get the opportunity, we must take it. A walk in the woods, a long car ride to grandma’s house, quiet time before bed – these are some of the key times where we can tune out the noisy world. In these windows of solitude, ask your kids what they’re most thankful for and why. Their answers might surprise you. Sometimes children see things in the most basic way, and that’s what gratitude is all about. It might be a book, a drawing, or how the sky looks that day. Encourage them to connect appreciation and gratitude, no matter how simplistic their notions might be.
You might be asked, “Mom, what is gratitude?” Though kids might feel gratitude, understanding or putting it into words might be difficult for little ones.
Here are some ways you can explain it:
“Being grateful for something means that certain things you see and do make you feel really good inside”
“When you say ‘thank you’ you really mean it, and you think about how nice the person is who gave you something or did something for you”
“A friend at school might be sad and you might not be. You probably feel lucky that you’re the one who is not sad, but it also means that you’re feeling grateful and you can do your best to help your friend”
One of the best ways to explain what gratitude is to demonstrate it yourself. Mentioning that you’re grateful for having heat in your house on a cold day, food in the fridge or a car that takes you places are common things that not everyone has. Making a practice of going around the dinner table and encouraging each family member to state what they are grateful for at that moment is a great exercise in both gratitude and mindfulness.
Learning Gratitude by Giving Back
One of the best ways to identify and feel gratitude is to help those in need. Donating to the food bank, helping with street clean-up, or babysitting for free are all ways your kids can learn how to pitch in and help someone in a bind and get a sense of gratitude at the same time. Putting themselves in someone else’s shoes gives them an opportunity to compare their lives to others who might be less fortunate.
Let’s face it; the sense of entitlement that’s running rampant these days is disturbing. Teaching kids to be grateful for even the smallest things might spawn a generation of adults who are more inclusive, tolerant and less focused on themselves. Gratitude starts at home and is taught by example. What are some ways you can help your kids feel gratitude for even the smallest things?