Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Gratitude during the Holidays – and Beyond!

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A common concern these days is that children are used to having so much “stuff” in their lives that they are not as grateful as we would wish them to be. It’s not just something that affects individual children or families; our society as a whole is just very focused on material things and possessing many of them. Around Thanksgiving and Christmas time, our mailboxes overflow with brochures that try to lure us into buying more toys, electronic devices, and other ‘stuff’ that would be nice to have. Most of us have to work hard in order to obtain these things. So when our child does not seem happy to receive the things we give them, it comes as a real disappointment! 

Here’s some kids who did not like the presents they received:

What can we do about reactions like these? We can’t control how anybody else feels – even our children’s feelings are beyond our immediate control – but we can instill gratitude as a general attitude in (even young) children. That’s the good news! So how do we do that?
The Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) is offering a lot of good ideas (many of them science-based) to promote gratitude in children. They even have a special “Expanding Gratitude” project. Here’s their special page with Seven Ways to Foster Gratitude in Kids. Dr. Christina Carter summarizes some of the tips in this video:

As with everything, “walking the walk” is one of the best ways of teaching. Children look up to us for guidance and examples, and they are master imitators – especially when they are young. So if we make a practice of expressing our gratitude to others, our children will see this and are likely to follow our footsteps. If we consistently write Thank-You notes, thank others for acts of kindness, and show our thankfulness for what we have, this will show kids the way of gratitude. Another very powerful way to show them this is to express our gratitude – wholeheartedly – for having our children in our lives!

Another way to foster a more grateful attitude in life comes from practices done directly with our children. These can be really fun, as well as meaningful. With adults, happiness is found to go up when we write down what we were grateful for at the end of each day. With kids, this practice can be done in different ways, depending on the age of the child and the preferences of the family. My son was about 7 years old when I first started to do this practice with him. Both of us would write three things we were grateful for every night, such as, “I am thankful for our pets. I think they are lots of fun!” Other ideas are to ask your children every night at bedtime what they were most grateful for that day. That way, they will go to sleep in a grateful state of mind. Or, each person in the family writes this on little slips of paper and puts them in a jar. One day a week can then be “thankfulness day”, on which the little papers are read and shared with the whole family.
Other ways to practice gratitude include:
  • Doing things for others (as in volunteering, or helping a neighbor).
  • Asking (older) children to choose which toys they can give away (so they get less attached to “stuff” and learn to share their abundance).
  • Expressing thanks at every family meal.
  • Tracing an object (can be anything, really) back to its origins. For example, as an adult you can take one of your Christmas presents and say, “I am grateful for the delivery man that brought this scarf to the door (or perhaps to Santa for delivering it ); to the people who knitted it and put it together; and to the sheep who provided the wool for it.” This way, kids (and parents!) become more aware of where all the “stuff” comes from and what it took to bring it into our hands.

It can be hard to combat the materialism and sense of entitlement that are so common in our world. But gratitude practice can make a real difference! It can make us happier, lead to wanting less stuff, and can strengthen our relationships! More tips can be found in this downloadable PDF. Enjoy!

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