It’s the month of gratitude! While I do love that culture talks a lot about gratitude during this month, I wonder if we are too shallow, especially with what we both teach and model for our children. We live in a “loose” culture where everything is about the individual, and honestly, I think it’s becoming more difficult to teach gratitude as we drift toward entitlement.
Let’s not blame the kids. We do it TOO!
I have asked some of my most respected wise Mom friends HOW they have taught their children to be grateful in this world of plenty and here is what I've learned:
- Say No or Wait.
One of the many reasons that we are raising a generation of arguably “entitled” kids is that they aren’t told no. We indulge our kids with stuff, we do everything for them, we fight their battles, we shelter them from consequences.
We aren’t doing our kids or ourselves any favors. How will we raise grateful children when they never struggle, they never want, they never have to work, and they never have to wait?
We can’t be thankful for things we don’t value and we don’t value things we don’t work for.
"No you can’t go outside until you’ve cleaned up the kitchen."
" No you can’t stay up late."
" No you can’t have your own iPad until you can buy it yourself"
" No you can’t watch tv while I clean the house"
- Make Moments Thankful.
We’re all busy and we’re always moving. Even during the busiest day you can name your blessings.
Point out how thankful you are for a sunny day or that God had a better plan for your day. Share your gratitude for the meal someone cooked you or to your husband for washing the dishes. Talk about how much you value your relationships.
Above all, verbally express thanks for what Jesus has done for us and God’s provision for our lives.
Play a game where each person shares a blessing from the day. When your child is feeling down encourage him to name 3 things he is thankful for despite circumstances. We also take turns praying one-word gratitude prayers in the car where one person opens the prayer and then each of us shares one word. We go around as many times as possible.
- Serve Together.
Make serving others a part of what your family does. When we help others and experience gratitude from them, we are able to better understand and share what gratitude really IS.
Additionally, helping kids understand that they have talents and the ability to bring others joy sparks their OWN gratitude for the things that others do to bring them joy.
Rake leaves for a neighbor, take cookies to the fire or police station, draw pictures and take them to a nursing home. Go shopping for the food pantry. Serve in local missions with your church. We KNOW these are good things, but we have to DO them.
- Respect is non-negotiable:
Gratitude and respect go hand in hand. When our kids are taught to treat ALL people with dignity and respect no matter how we’re treated back, they will be more likely to appreciate the contribution that others pour into their lives.
Sometimes we put more emphasis on showing respect for leaders, bosses, and pastors, than peers and siblings.
It’s our job to model this. It’s a tough and high calling when our feelings are hurt. Jesus turned the other cheek and we must do the same if we wish to instill humility into our children’s lives. Talking poorly about your child’s teacher (or the President/a police officer/your biggest enemy...) in front of her does nothing to make her more grateful nor respectful. When it’s necessary to address an issue, do so with love and kindness.
- Thank you, ALWAYS.
For my oldest son, both Christmas and his birthday occur within a 3-week period and when he turned 3 years old he started thinking that EVERY package that arrived on our doorstep was a present for him. I mean really?
I have since expressed my wishes to significantly limit gifts in favor of experiences, but I digress. I decided that since he was too little to WRITE thank you notes he could draw or paint pictures of the gifts he received, and we could send them as thank you notes. We did that together and talked about the things we love about each person who sent a gift. I can certainly be WAY more consistent with this, but no gesture is too small to generate a word of thanks.
- Encourage Eye Contact.
This one is kind of a side note that goes with respect. When speaking to adults- especially when answering questions and expressing gratitude- it’s important to LOOK AT THEM in the eyes. It shows respect, it shows confidence and it reflects gratitude for that adult’s willingness to engage the child. Face to face communication is being replaced with screens, so helping our children to learn to engage is of utmost importance.
I sure am grateful for the things my wise friends have taught me! I would love to hear your practices for teaching gratitude and respect in a self-centered world! How is your family bucking the trend?