As we enter this summer season with beaches and warm sunshine and more free time, I think about how lucky we are to be living the life we have. I then wonder how I can teach my children to appreciate all they have and to be grateful every day. Studies have shown that people who are grateful are considerably happier, 25% or more, than those that are not grateful. This fact alone inspires me to teach an attitude of gratitude to my children. The concept of gratitude can be abstract for many children and teens. The challenge for parents is making gratitude a concrete, everyday experience.
Here are some tips to instill an attitude of gratitude in your children:
• Make the practice of gratitude a habit. By this I mean try to have a regular time when your family members are thankful for something in their lives. For many families, traditionally, saying grace or another prayer before a family meal is one way of expressing thanks. Recently I started formally showing gratitude by stating that we are thankful for our food at mealtime. Expressing gratitude as part of the routine can be habit forming as it reinforces the message in a continuous way.
• Emphasize the use of “thank you” as an example of how to demonstrate gratitude. Communicate to your children that part of saying thank you extends beyond manners and etiquette to appreciation.
• Try to find ways to expose your children to diverse cultures and life experiences. One of the greatest benefits of children seeing how other people live is that it gives them perspective and a sense of how their lives compare to others, allowing a natural appreciation to develop.
• Acknowledge our veterans and other people who have given their lives and committed their service for the greater good. Do this by sending cards, thank you notes, and honoring them on days of remembrance. One exercise that children can do to help them appreciate veterans on Veterans Day is to research and learn about a veteran that fought and died and share the veteran’s story with their family as part of remembrance on that day.
• Give to others who have less on a regular basis. I'm not suggesting that people donate large amounts of money or make financial contributions. Donations can be made from clothing and toys that are no longer useful to your family. Make sure they are in good condition and take pride in the way that they're packaged and delivered to the families in need. This sends a message that those families are important and equal in stature.
• Whenever possible offer to help those in need around you. Examples are holding the door for others, helping someone manage packages, being patient when the cashier makes an error in the checkout line. By acting in these ways you are role modeling random acts of kindness as a way of giving back.
• Tell your children that you are grateful for their own acts of kindness. If your older child helps your younger child with homework, pull him aside and offer specific examples of how you appreciate his help by saying “I’m very appreciative of the math help that you gave to your brother this afternoon. You took time, you were patient and you taught him in a way that he could learn”.
• Tell your spouse often and in vocal ways that you appreciate and are grateful for what they do and for their presence. This communication between parents in front of children demonstrates that parents appreciate each other and don’t take each other for granted.
• Offer to help friends, relatives and other family members who are in need. If a neighbor is sick offer to make them food or drive them somewhere. This demonstrates your willingness to extend yourself to others, whether or not they actually accept your offers to help.
• Try not to expect that your children are going to be able to independently demonstrate gratitude and appreciation for what you give them any time soon. Over time, perhaps years, they will develop an appreciation for you and the world you have created for them and realize how lucky they are. As children mature and grow into adults, their ability to communicate appreciation and gratitude will emerge. Until then, as a parent your job is to plant the seeds by modeling this behavior and making it part of the daily family ritual. Be patient and appreciate yourselves as giving, loving parents in all you do for your children and the world around you.