"Your kids are so good, because you are poor," said a tactless relative.
No, my kids do not whine or throw temper tantrums in stores, but that is not because we are poor and cannot meet their needs. We do just fine, thank you very much. The truth is, my kids do not whine, because I make it a point to teach gratitude.
But in a way, my tactless relative had a point. When kids are taught the importance of gratitude, empathy for others grows. They recognize the feelings of others and start to cultivate skills that will serve them for the rest of their life. On the other hand, kids without that training, whether they happen to be rich, poor, or somewhere in between, experience chronic dissatisfaction.
Teaching thankfulness at Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving provides the ideal backdrop for teaching gratitude. Not only is there less commercial fuss surrounding this holiday, it comes directly before the fussiest, commercial holiday of the year: Christmas.
Like any good habit you want to instill in your children, it has to start with you. You can tell your child to say thank you until you are blue in the face, but their words won't change their heart until they see gratitude in action. Thank the cashier at the busy grocery store, show your spouse you appreciate their efforts, and thank your children for behaving. Attitudes are caught, not taught.
Thank you notes
In addition to my four children, I see several dozen more each week in my art classes. One of my favorite ways to teach gratitude in the days leading up to this very appropriate holiday is to write thank you notes.
- Leave a stack of post-it notes, card stock, or let them cut out shapes.
- Encourage the kids to choose a particular person in their life to write a little thank you note.
- Keep it fun and lighthearted by having them really think of creative reasons to show thanks. For example, one of my students drew a cartoon to thank one of the hall monitors for saving the class from danger. The picture was full of all sorts of dangerous things, like alligators, sharks, bombs, poison, and canned spinach.
Because I do not expect a novel or even complete sentences, the kids can really pour their heart, and creativity, into saying thanks.
Although we are poor, according to my tactless relative, we consider it our responsibility to share what we do have with others. Just taking a tour of your own home can show your kids the privileges they have. After encouraging the kids to donate clothing, toys, and household goods to charity through the years, my 17-year-old daughter surprised us last Thanksgiving by adopting a little girl in our family's name through World Vision.
Her brothers and sister gather change each month to make the monthly support. Knowing that a few dollars provides this little girl a chance to attend school and helps with food and necessities to her family is a concrete way to share our wealth. It is not always easy for them to come up with the money, but through notes back and forth with their adopted sister, they realize the importance of keeping it up.
Play a game
I'll be honest; I dread going around the table at Thanksgiving to share what I am most grateful for. The pressure is too intense. So I try to avoid making this a part of our annual holiday tradition. Of course, we participate when we are guests in someone's home, but for the most part, I steer clear of this practice. A different way to accomplish the same goal is to make a game out of it.
- Thanks for the memories: Play in the kitchen while preparing dinner, in the car on the way to grandma's house, or in between turkey and pie in the family room.
- Start by saying one thing you are thankful for, such as warm socks. People can choose to be grateful for the dog, pumpkin pie, sunny days, and all the usual suspects like family, friends, and health.
- One word or very short phrases are best since the idea is not to wax eloquent, but remember what everyone is thankful for, in order.
- If the first person said, "warm socks," the next would say, "warm socks and the dog," or whatever it is they wish to give thanks for and so on. This fun game exercises your gratitude muscles while eliminating yawns!
Thanksgiving is a great time to focus on teaching gratitude, but in order for it to really stick, it has to become part of your family's day-to-day culture.
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