Mom: “Tre, what does it mean to be grateful?”
Child: “It means to be happy for the stuff that you have…you shouldn’t want more…you should just be happy.”
This was the beginning of a conversation I had with my 6-year old son one day on the way home from school. As I continued to drive, I asked him for specific examples of what he is grateful for and he went on to talk to me about his family, his new room, friends, toys and books and I thought, ok, he has a good starting idea. As 2018 winds down, I’ve been doing more thinking about the concept of gratefulness and how I am teaching my son how to incorporate this practice into his everyday life. Even as a 1st grader, he will say “thank you” when it is necessary, but I wondered if he really ‘got it’ when it came to the intangible feelings and thoughts about gratitude and what it means to be appreciative. As with other concepts like telling the truth, being kind and demonstrating good sportsmanship, I believe it is necessary to explicitly teach kids what gratefulness is and how to show it.
If you’re like me, you are bracing for (or in the midst of) your kids’ temporary super extended weekend a.k.a. Winter Break! And if you’re a mom whose kids are beyond school years- close your eyes and send some positive vibes our way! For those of us that have the pleasure of being home for several uninterrupted days, you could find yourself having conversations about gratefulness and how your kids can better appreciate the things they have. It is no doubt that we live in the days of immediate gratification and can access what we want at the stroke of a finger. But, what do you do when you want to press pause on their requests, so you can tap into the gratitude you want them to demonstrate?
We spend time teaching our kids how to say thank you before they can fully form words in an effort to begin laying the foundation for gratefulness. So how can we be more explicit in teaching what gratefulness looks, sounds and feels like? I want Tre to not only be a young man who verbally expresses his appreciation, but one who demonstrates a life of that very same idea. I want him to have a mind that is sincerely thankful for what others do, and one that is content with what he already has. I agree those are big ideas to teach that don’t come with a manual.
Talk the talk and walk the walk
Our kids become what we teach them, and they learn from what they hear and see us do. So, use your words to talk about what gratefulness is and is not. Show them how to demonstrate appreciation and live a life that speaks to those feelings. Don’t forget they are listening to what you say and how you say it and watching your reaction when situations call for you to demonstrate gratefulness. Talk about examples of gratefulness over dinner or on a car ride home and be honest about your struggles and that is can be easy, at times, to waiver between wanting to be picky and remembering that showing appreciation. Volunteer together at a local shelter or soup kitchen serving others and donate clothes and toys to other kids. This allows your children to have the experience of helping others outside of their regular circle. Several times a year Tre helps gather clothing, along with toys and books he’s outgrown to donate to various charitable organizations. When I first doing this with him several years ago, he did not quite understand the idea of how giving away some of his beloved toys and clothes was going to help someone else; he only saw it as a loss. I spent time explaining to him that there are boys and girls that do not have as much as him and he can show kindness by sharing what he has. Remember our kids’ brains are still developing and each experience they have adds to their ability to learn about empathy and put what they learn from us it into practice.
Get ready to reteach and redirect- It’s worth it
Mothers have been gifted with the patience of saints and I know there are moments when you think “if have to tell [insert your child’s name] one more time to…” you are going to lose it! Well, get ready to whisper words of encouragement to yourself because teaching gratefulness will require a lot of reteaching. We all want our kids to grow into adults who say, “Thank You,” are appreciative for what others do and live a life that demonstrates these traits- this is why it is important to spend time teaching, and reteaching, what it means to be grateful. There is also a bit of redirection that will be necessary as well. At 6, my son has a better understanding of holiday celebrations and all of the fanfare that comes with them. So, it is no surprise that he is super excited about the Christmas holiday and he does not hesitate to share potential gift ideas with me whenever the ideas pop into his head. It is at these moments when I listen and acknowledge him, then respond with a redirection about the real reason we celebrate the holiday. And I add that Mommy, Daddy and the jolly old man who rides in on a sleigh will take all of his suggestions into account and make the best decisions for him! I’m not going to lie- redirection is not always easy, nor convenient. I find myself doing it when I least care to and when I would like nothing more than to not engage in any kind of conversation. So, it is then that I tap into my patience bank and do one of several things: Redirect, change the subject, say nothing, or say no. Yes- “No!” I have embraced the power of saying no in a light hearted, matter-of-fact kind of way that works for me to redirect him in a pretty effective way.
Moms- However you decide to teach your kids about gratefulness, I encourage you to be intentional about it. When you discuss and model grateful behavior in different settings, ask your kids questions to gage their understanding about what they hear, see and how it makes them feel. The more you make the concepts of gratefulness a part of your family the better prepared your children will be to demonstrate the skills of thankfulness, gratitude and compassion for others.