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How to Foster Gratitude in Children

Waiting on line in a shop, I watch the scene in front of me unfold. A teenage girl has piled the counter with clothing. Her mother is standing there waiting for the items to be tallied.

“$434.00,” says the saleswoman.

I see the mom wince. The young girl barely looks up. She is busy on her iPhone.

“Are you sure this is what you want?” the mother asks.

Her daughter snaps her bubble gum, still looking down. “Yeah,” she replies without meeting her mother’s eyes. She is texting.

Her mom slowly counts out every dollar. Her wallet is now empty. The saleswoman hands her the bag. The young girl has still not acknowledged her mother’s presence; forget about the gift of clothing. They leave the store without any exchange; not even a smile. The words ‘thank you’ were never uttered.

I feel sad for both mother and daughter. Mother- for trying so hard to make her child happy and not feeling appreciated despite the obvious sacrifice; and daughter – for growing up with such incredible disregard and arrogance. They are on a journey of disrespect and unhappiness.

We mistakenly equate acquiring things with acquiring love.

It is our jobs as parents to teach our children how to appreciate, voice thankfulness, and grow with character despite the hurdles we face trying to mold our children’s souls. A great part of parenting is setting limits while being loving. Buying more stuff doesn’t help us gain entry into our children’s hearts.

Too many parents are afraid to tell their kids how to live and act better. They are scared of their children’s reactions, frightened that their kids won’t like them. Knowing that their disrespect is tolerated, sons and daughters simply mouth off or blatantly ignore their parents.

Parents are also faced with a personal dilemma that stems from their own childhood. As one mom told me, “When you grew up without, you want your kids to have. So you keep buying whatever they want.” We mistakenly equate acquiring things with acquiring love, but the two are not the same.

High Holiday Parenting Goals

As we approach the High Holidays, we are asked to reflect upon our lives. This is the time of year that we set personal goals. As parents, an attitude of gratitude is one of the most crucial character traits we can teach our children. Gratitude is the foundation for a home that is to be built with respect. When we appreciate our possessions and the people in our lives, when kids realize that things just don’t suddenly appear in our closets and on our plates, then we arrive to an awareness of thankfulness that we cannot simply disregard. We come to value and respect both our families and our things. We’ve got to stop taking it all for granted.

While getting kids ready for the new school year, we are given the perfect opportunity to cultivate within them this awareness. And as we parent our children’s souls we will find that we parent our own selves in the process.

Why Gratitude?

Children raised with a sense of thankfulness have been found to have better grades, are less likely to be depressed, have a better attitude toward school and family, and show more satisfaction with life. They also speak more respectfully and take care of their things because of their appreciation. They do not grow up with a sense of entitlement and arrogance.

Grateful adults are happier, possess greater self-esteem, and live with more feelings of hope, empathy and optimism.

How do we grow an attitude of appreciation in our homes?

Daily Thanks

Gratitude must become a regular part of our lives. We are taught to begin each day with the prayer of ‘Modeh Ani’ – ‘Thank You God for another day’. This becomes a mindset. Let’s teach our children to start their morning with these words. Thankfulness should become common in our vocabulary. Look for things, big and small, to express gratitude for. You found a parking spot easily? The family is eating dinner together? Let the kids hear your gratitude. The children got new school sneakers and backpacks? You bought holiday outfits? Don’t allow the moment to pass without an expression of appreciation. And if one parent is not able to be there, have the kids call and say ‘thank you’.

End each day with your children thanking God for their blessings.

A beautiful way to end each day is teaching your children to thank God for their blessings before they go to sleep. Help younger children think of people, experiences and things they are grateful for. This will become a positive awareness that children cultivate as they grow. Daily thanks compel us to feel joy.

Model Thankfulness

It is not adequate to expect gratitude from our children; we too, must express appreciation to each other. Husbands and wives often take each other for granted. Carpools are driven, dinners cooked, long days in the office dealt with and after a while we just assume that this is what we are all supposed to be doing. We make an awful mistake teaching children that spouses do not deserve to hear that we cherish their efforts. Even if we are expected to bring home a paycheck or put a load in the wash, that does not excuse our lack of thankfulness. Make a point to verbalize your words of gratefulness. Show your family that you cherish and admire your spouse.

This also goes for anyone we tend to overlook. The doorman, the server, the bus driver, the babysitter, the math tutor-there are too many people we disrespect by ignoring their presence in our lives.

Teach Children to Give

Takers in life are naturally unhappy. They are always expecting more and never satisfied. Children who do not make giving a part of their life grow demanding and arrogant. Have children pitch in. Allow them to participate so they can see what it takes to cut up a salad, load the dishwasher, set the table and bring the groceries in from the car.

When children outgrow toys or clothing, teach them to gather their gently used items so that others can enjoy. Explain how there is a child who will now feel warm with their jacket or delight with their bicycle. Show them how they can make a difference in this world. Explain how their things hold value and meaning. Watch gratitude grow.

When parents nudge children out of their selfie universe, families learn to value and cherish one another. Instead of buying more presents, let us work this year on becoming a stronger presence in our children’s lives. Let us choose to be grateful and open the eyes of our sons and daughters to life’s blessings. We will all be happier and more content.

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