Giving Thanks and Teaching Gratitude

Hello, November!   November is the month in which we formally give thanks as a nation.  The act of giving thanks is an expression of gratitude – for the harvest, for our families and friends, for our health and for that one very special dish that makes your eyes light up and mouth water every single Thanksgiving.  Gratitude is almost always in the top ten list of characteristics parents desire for their children to have as adults.  Parents wish to raise grateful children because gratitude opens the heart, gratitude connects and gratitude honors the self and others.  When your children seem to be wired for endless wants and demands, how do you teach them to reap the benefits of gratitude?

Albert Einstein said, “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means.”  This holds true for parenting. Children learn what they see not what they hear.  When a child asks you to buy him another video game, saying, “You should be grateful for the ten video games that you already have and never use” is not going to teach him gratitude.  However, when parents express gratitude, their children will as well.  Gratitude is a practice, and the more you practice, the greater the benefits. 

Begin your practice of gratitude by consciously noticing and thanking those in your family for acts of helpfulness.  Practice gratitude at the dinner table by expressing appreciation for the meal and for those who made it.  Begin a family meeting with letting each person know how grateful you are for them and what you are grateful for.  For example, “I am grateful that you noticed how tired and thirsty I was when working in the yard yesterday and for bringing me water.  That was very thoughtful of you and it helped me to finish the work I was doing.  Thank you.”

Purchase journals for everyone in your family and create a family ritual of writing five or ten things each day that you are grateful for.  If you have very young children, have them draw in their journal.  Enjoy sharing the things you’ve written with one another. 

When you have a complaint, find something within the complaint for which you are grateful.  For instance, if you are complaining about being stuck in traffic, find gratitude for the time to return a phone call, decide what to have for dinner or to mentally prepare for the meeting you have later in the day.  Wes Hopper, author of The Astonishing Power of Gratitude, suggests writing down twenty-five things you don’t like followed by that for which you are grateful in each instance.  For that job you don’t like, you are grateful for your income.  Being grateful for your job doesn’t mean you are stuck there for life.  It means that until you begin your next job, you are feeling grateful rather than mired in unhappiness.  Your gratitude will also make you a much more attractive candidate for your next job.

When your children make demands, whine, or pressure you for something that they want, using the following four steps will help you teach gratitude:

  1. Acknowledge how they feel by saying, for example, “You really love to play video games.”  This will not only honor your child’s feelings but it will also assist you in avoiding judgment and criticism.  He will hear you, and you will be in a much more flexible and creative state of mind.
  2. Establish clear limits by saying, “I am not willing to buy another video game.”
  3. Offer alternatives such as, “Can you figure out a way to earn the money to buy it yourself?” or “Would you be willing to sell several of your old games to buy this new one?”
  4. Continue the discussion as long as it moves forward.  If it regresses into demands or tantrums, let your child know you will talk about it later when he is calm.

November is a great time to begin your family practice of gratitude and to then let the practice carry you into a brighter New Year.  As Wes Hopper says, “You’ll be grateful you did!”