How Do You Teach Children To Have An Attitude Of Gratitude & Instill A Spirit Of Giving?
Your son has just opened his 4th present. Instead of showing gratitude, he throws it aside and says, “What’s next!?”
Your Daughter starts throwing a fit because she just counted the gifts and she has one less than her brother.
The vision you had of a holiday filled with the spirit of giving has diminished in the matter of minutes.
The November and December Holidays are often known to be the season of influenza, but it’s also a season when “affluenza” can be particularly contagious, especially in children. “Affluenza” is that condition children and adults can get this time of year, wanting to get more things and sometimes not appreciating the non-material blessings in their lives.
Naturally, no parent wants their children to be ungrateful. So, most parents teach their children good manners, like saying “please” and “thank you.” A true attitude of gratitude, however, is more than being polite. It’s also not a state of being reserved for Thanksgiving Day or the days we receive gifts.
So how do you instill an attitude of gratitude in children?
Realizing which stage of Gratitude your children are in is perhaps the first step. Annie Zirkel, author of the book You’ll Thank Me Later: A Guide to Nurturing Gratitude in our Children (and why that matters), says there are Five Stages of Gratitude:
- “Saying Gratitude” is using good manners. We are polite and acknowledge when others do good things for us. These are important habits to teach our children, so they treat others with respect.
- “Emergent Gratitude” is a deeper sense of gratitude. It is a true and sincere appreciation for what one has. Not just material things, but for people, relationships and intangibles. It’s “counting our blessings.”
- “Mature Gratitude” is being grateful for everything, even the little things that most people take for granted, like a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs.
- “Hard Gratitude” is a sincere feeling of gratitude for even apparent negative events, for the positive benefits these challenges may bring. Most people form this sense of gratitude after they have made it through a negative event.
- “A State of Grace” is the most difficult form of gratitude to have, because it’s being grateful for negative or even dramatic events while we are still in the midst of them. This form of gratitude builds a sense of faith that no matter what happens in our lives some good can come from it. It’s an empowering recognition that it’s our choice how we choose to perceive our experiences. We see this with terminally ill patients who enjoy every second of life and reassure us that they and we can be at peace.
I’m sure you know someone who isn’t even at Stage 1 and someone you admire for being at Stage 5. To teach our children an attitude of gratitude and have a spirit of giving is simple, but maybe not easy. Here are a few suggestions:
Model Gratitude: Some children and adults are rude. They don’t even say, “Thank You” out of politeness. They expect to receive things or feel entitled. These children and adults have never even mastered “Saying Gratitude.” So this is the first step of developing an attitude of gratitude. Then model each level of gratitude by using good manners, expressing your appreciation for the little things in life, for your children, and even for the apparent negative circumstances you might be facing.
Teach Gratitude: Point out times when it would be appropriate for children to consider what they might be grateful to have. Respectful reminders to use manners or other respectful prompts can simply shift children’s awareness from negative to positive or from entitlement to appreciation. Avoid blame for guilt trips, such as, “You are such a spoiled brat. You didn’t even thank grandma for that gift.” Instead simply acknowledge the opportunity you see. For example, “Wasn’t that a nice thing to do? I bet it would mean a lot to her if you told her you appreciated the time she took to do that.”
Live Gratitude: Don’t just talk about being grateful, truly feel it. Scientific research shows that feelings of gratitude create healthy chemicals in our bodies. They also raise the body’s electromagnetic vibration level, which not only helps us feel more positive, but tends to help us recognize and attract more positive into our lives. Empty words don’t do this. Sincere feelings of appreciation and deep gratitude do.
During the November and December Holidays and all year round, I’m grateful for parents like you, who know that parenting is the most important job on earth, and are committed to learning all you can to raise responsible, mature, confident, well-balanced children. My holiday wish for you is to get in touch with that deep sense of gratitude for the good in your life and for what appears to be “bad.” Each challenge holds a gift for you and I hope you will find it and cherish it for what it brings to your life. This holiday season, may you give the gift of Gratitude to your children and bring a unique kind of Holiday Peace and Joy to your family.
I would be honored to support you in teaching your child an attitude of gratitude. The Universal Blueprint® Parenting Success Formula gives you the practical language and communication skills every parent needs to effectively teach their children family values that will remain with them the rest of their life. If you want more insights, information and practical tools to do that, get the 7 Keys to Parenting Success ebook now. It’s free!
Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is President of Parent’s Toolshop® Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. For 30+ years, Jody has trained tens thousands of parents and family professionals worldwide through her dynamic workshops and hundreds of interviews with the media worldwide, including Parents and Working Mother magazines. She is the author of the award-winning book The Parent’s Toolshop®, and countless multimedia resources that support and educate parents from diverse backgrounds, plus other adults who live or work with children. You can find them at her award-winning website, www.ParentsToolshop.com.
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