I’ve spoken here before about how I’m trying (hard! … in vain!) to enrich the childhood of the kids with memories instead of things. And as I began on this quest, I realized that it was in vain for two reasons:
1) They’re kids. They’re supposed to be self-centered.
2) I’m supposed to teach them otherwise.
Growing up, we had gratitude DRILLED into us at an early age. We learned and perfected the Present Face at a very young age, and learned that “Thank You” was the only acceptable answer for anything handed to you. I didn’t realize how prevalent it was in my DNA until one day we all walked from the restaraunt and I blurted out, out of sheer habit, “Thanks for my dinner!”
They all looked at me like I was insane.
So it began: my mission to teach my children gratitude.
I made three general rules, knowing that I should set the bar at a realistic (read: LOW) level initially.
1. Be thankful for your meals. It’s now a rule that every meal, regardless of where or what we’re eating, someone must ask who prepared the meal, and thanks must be offered for that effort. It sounds silly, but when YOU’RE the cook? You’ll really appreciate the thanks. Also, it forces the kids to stop and realize what effort went into their meal.
2. Be thankful for your circumstances. Kids are self-centered by nature, which means that they assume everyone has it as good as they do. (Also, they assume they have it good, no matter how little you can buy for the holidays, so don’t stress.) Before the holidays, we sit with both boys and go through their toys for donation, explaining in simple but honest terms that these toys will benefit children who aren’t as fortunate. I’ve never once had either boy resist donating most of their unused toys when they know that someone else can benefit.
3. Be thankful for each other. Just like everything else they learn, your kids will ultimately pick up the attitude of gratitude from the examples they see in their home. Being loving and kind to everyone (.. or, at least, as many people as you can stomach) sets the example that it’s NOT a huge effort to be thankful, it’s just part of the normal routine. So, come on. Put on your Present Face for that present from Aunt Edna, and thank her sincerely.
Of course, there is the holiday devoted to Thanks right around the corner, and there is no better time to initiate your kids into the Attitude of Gratitude. Ever since I was very young, it is tradition to sit around the turkey and go around the table, piling on what all we have to be thankful for. So take a few minutes before diving head-first into the stuffing, and tell your kids what you’re thankful for. You might be surprised what they offer as their gratitudes in return.