On day 5 I wrote about developing a sense of empathy in children. A key foundation of that is gratitude – the ability to be thankful for what one has, rather than focusing on what one doesn’t have. Day 7 of the #blogchatterA2Z challenge is dedicated to G for Gratitude and I will share some thoughts on developing an “Attitude of Gratitude” in our children.
Children or for that matter even adults who don’t know gratitude don’t know how to be satisfied, regardless of how much they have or whatever they have achieved and end up remaining unhappy and discontented most of their lives. Gratitude helps decreasing a number of negative emotions such as regret, sadness, envy, anger and resentment. There are a number of studies that link gratitude to physical and emotional health.
Today kids have many more privileges, materialistic conveniences as well as opportunities compared to what we ever had. The sheer variety to choose from is mind boggling. It has likely also led to a sense of entitlement in children. It is easy to get used to keep getting stuff without knowing or caring where it comes from. Hence it becomes even more important to instill a sense of gratitude in our children. To remind them that all these comforts do not come from nowhere. There are others working hard so that they are able to enjoy their comforts. It is also important to make them realise that not everyone has the good fortune of having these privileges.
Being aware of who or what is responsible for the positive aspects of their lives can help children feel less entitled, more grateful and less likely to make unnecessary demands. It also helps them appreciate what they have rather than focus on what they don’t have.
Below are some tips on how to develop gratitude in our children:
Start young: this usually starts with teaching our children simple manners like saying thank you and sorry (I love it when my little one says thank you mumma!) but slowly this habit can develop into an attitude of gratitude.
Encourage them to feel and thank: Saying thank you becomes so ingrained that many times we say a perfunctory thank you without really feeling grateful. Help them notice when someone is being kind to them. Point out the number of people who are making their lives easier or filling it with love – their grandparents, nannies, teachers, and many more. At my little one’s pre-school they get them to say thank you to even their tiffins and water bottles! At my older one’s school, a day was dedicated when children took over from their bhaiyyas and didis and give them gifts. Even at my college hostel, once a year, we used to cook for our mess workers and treat them to dinner. All of these are ways to thank people who are an intrinsic part of our lives. Motivate them to thank people with an act rather than only words. Make a Thank You card or write a letter. Maybe bake a cake or make a gift to show they are thankful.
Avoid excess: unknowingly many of us instill the sense of entitlement in our kids by giving them too much or doing too much for them or going out of the way for giving them whatever they want. It is very easy to take things and people for granted when one doesn’t have to exert much effort in getting them. I am myself guilty for buying too many toys for my first born and am rectifying that now. Similarly, am trying to make going out or treats special/infrequent occasions. As they grow older, one can also introduce the concept of ‘earning stuff’. For example, my son has been asking for a Disney plus subscription. I have agreed to get him a week’s trial if his weekly report improves. Plus of course remember that one doesn’t need to give them anything and everything they want.
Expose them to reality: it is difficult to realise your position of privilege unless you see those who do not have it. Hence it is important to expose children to reality. This will also help develop empathy. Use this to teach them to give back to society – to help those who are not as privileged as them. Also, this need not be limited to only economically underprivileged – if your child is popular at school, you can talk about someone who may not have too many friends and suggest your child to reach out. Or perhaps your child is brilliant in French and she can help another friend who may be struggling with it.
Enjoy simple pleasures of life: opt for the simple experience and step out of the busy, mind numbing lives that we are leading nowadays. The COVID 19 lockdown is also giving us a lot of opportunities to see that. It was sheer joy to see my younger one go completely berserk when he saw his first rainbow last week!
Some gratitude activities to do with kids:
Saying grace everyday or just talking about what we are thankful for – have each family member share a new aspect every evening at the dinner table.
Do a gratitude tree – this one can be good if you have a garden with a tree. Cut big leaves out of chart paper, write your blessings and go hang them on the tree. Kids would really enjoy this one.
Gratitude jar – the whole family can participate in this. Keep a jar of gratitude and whenever people feel grateful about something (or it could be a daily activity as well) they write about it on a slip of paper and drop it in the jar. It could be a weekly or monthly activity to open and read out all the nice things! Or you could keep it for a rainy day when one needs to see the positives in life.
Alphabet thanks – good to play with younger children who are still learning their ABCs – pull out a letter – ask them to think of something they are thankful for that starts with that letter.
Family gratitude book – all members of the family could pitch in to make this journal and fill it with lovely memories, pictures and mementos. It would be a lovely experience to go back to it from time to time
Daily gratitude journal – this could be especially useful if the child is going through a rough patch. Writing positives every day would be uplifting.
Finally, gratitude is something that keeps us rooted and remain strong through thick and thin.
This is all from my bag of tricks – let me know what other ideas you have!