Susan Badeau

There are only two lasting gifts we can give our children - one is roots, the other is wings

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Four Tips for Teaching Thankfulness to Children

Posted by Sue Badeau on November 28, 2014 at 1:20 PM

November, the month when we gather with families and friends to eat turkey and pumpkin pie, is also known as the month of gratitude. In the social media age, it has become more and more common for people to use this month as an opportunity to post and share daily lists of all that they have to be thankful for in life.


Ironically, this spirit of overflowing gratitude is immediately followed by total immersion into a season of rampant consumerism characterized by an epidemic of the “I-wants,” the “I-gotta-haves” and the “gimmees.”


As a popular online meme puts it:


“Because only in America do we wait in line and trample others for sale items one day after giving thanks for what we already have.” (http://some.ly/1r3DG9E )


As these conflicting values collide I often hear parents express bewilderment about how to raise children with grateful, rather than greedy, hearts and spirits. While there is no foolproof recipe, I have four suggestions that tip the balance towards gratitude and away from greed. I will post two today and two tomorrow as we polish off the leftovers and hopefully re-think the “Black Friday” frenzy.


1. Model Thankfulness – Of course this one seems like a no-brainer. But as parents, even when we feel truly grateful, do we verbalize it in front of our children? Do they hear us regularly giving thanks not only for material things but also for actions and generosity of spirit? Do we thank them when they show kindness? If we feel moved to utter a prayer of gratitude, do the kids hear it? Do they hear us express thanks to the grocery store clerk, schoolteacher, church secretary, doctor’s office receptionist or anyone else who lightens our load or makes our day easier?


Conversely, do they hear us grumble and complain when we didn’t get exactly what we wanted? Have they heard us mock gifts from others? When I was a child I had a relative who gave odd gifts. Though she was an adult, her homemade gifts looked more like pre-school art projects. I remember seeing other adults around me roll their eyes whenever her gifts were being opened. We were required to write thank you notes to her, but they felt forced and even deceptive. In my adult years, I learned about some of the challenges she had been living with and that these modest and odd gifts were the best she could do to show her love for family members. I felt humbled and ashamed.


Our children need to be exposed to expressions of gratitude that are sincere, spontaneous, frequent, and go beyond the material realm.


2. Build gratitude into family routines – Gratitude is a little like a muscle, the more it is used, the stronger it gets. In addition to spontaneous expressions of thankfulness, it is helpful to be intentional and deliberate about setting aside time to think about what we are grateful for and express those feelings.


For some this can be part of a daily ritual, offering thanks for more than just the meal during the saying of grace, or naming something you are thankful for each night at bedtime.


The Obama’s famously made their dinnertime practice of “Roses and Thorns” a national trend - this is a practice that can easily be adapted to include “what am I most thankful for today.”


For others, a weekly routine makes more sense. In our family, we instituted a practice called “Pats-on-the-Back” (I wrote about this in a previous blog – here http://bit.ly/1g0AkMk ) which not only gave us opportunities to recognize and praise family members, but also to show gratitude for their contributions to the life of our family.


The best outcome of structured routines is the expectation they create for expressing gratitude. No one wants to be left out, so routines such as these encourage intentionality and thoughtful reflection on the question, “What am I thankful for?”


Stay tuned tomorrow when I return with two more tips for building an “attitude of gratitude” into everyday family life.

Categories: Building Bridges of Hope

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