The grateful child – Can we teach our kids the art of gratitude?

Probably one of the more difficult lessons to teach our children is the art of gratitude. Can we in fact teach them to sit back, take stock of all they have and be grateful?  Can it come only from having little and gaining more, or can we in fact be grateful even when we have always been blessed with so much?

We ply our children with every new toy, gadget and experience, leave them wanting for very little, then wonder why they have little real empathy for those who have less. Is it any wonder that constant exposure to adults and role models who are always wanting or needing that little bit extra , that our children find it difficult to differentiate between material wealth and inner contentment?  Can we blame them when they are so often privy to statements such as “when I get a new car, house, handbag, necklace, job, dress or ipad….I will be much happier”  Sure there is nothing wrong with having goals and desires, even material ones, for these are the objectives that can help keep us motivated. It is when all the other things that we do have are forgotten about,  that the less glamourous and often destructive notion of ‘ungratefulness’ creeps in.

For children who are blessed with loving parents, a comfortable lifestyle and access to an array of support, resources and opportunity, it is important that we grab any moments that we can to remind them off all they have. By this however, I do not mean simply a constant referral to the poor kids and all those less fortunate than them, as this can be a difficult concept, particularly  for the very young. I was reminded of this some time ago when my then 5 year old (now 9) complained about the action man toy he recieved as a ‘just for the sake of it present’ from his Nanna. Upon recieving the gift, glancing at his siblings obviously more enviable version of the action man, he screwed up his face and said it wasnt the one he wanted. To this I saw RED.  “How dare you..blah, blah,blah…” It went on and on….But after calming down I decided to go to his room that night to have a more rational discussion about the etiquette of receiving gifts. Upon entering the room, before I could utter a word, he blurted out “Dont even bother telling about the poor kids in other countries who have no toys because there’s nothing I can do about that”  Dumbfounded at first, I was silently processing his observation, trying to gather my thoughts before mumbling something about at least being grateful for all you do have  (blah blah blah) . So from that experience I am not sure how effective these references to the poor and less fortunate are, but hey…he had definately thought about it long enough to mention it!

So what else to do then to teach our children to be grateful?

We can get them to write gratitude diaries to focus on all they have to be thankful. This could also be a simple point form note at the end of the day or week to remind them of all the great things in their lives.  We can assign them chores so that they understand the value of  work and hence they appreciate the work others do for them. We can get them to volunteer for organisations or for people less fortunate. We can have them write thankyou notes for people who have given them a gift or somehow made an impact on their lives. And we can act as a role model by always showing gratitude ourselves.

But probably the most effective way of teaching our children the art of gratitude is to just say No.

Sometimes even when it is possible, even when we have the means to give them what they want, we need to say no – just because. 

“In our daily lives we must see that it is not the happiness that makes us grateful but the gratefulness that makes us happy” Albert Clarke, Photographer.

Stay tuned for the next post if saying no to your kids is often easier said than done!

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About Martine Oglethorpe

An educator, counsellor, speaker and mother to 5 boys. Passionate about helping families safely navigate their children through the online world. Realistic in her approach that successfully combines personal experience with professional work and research.

Comments

  1. Nice post. While I think there is some truth in “But probably the most effective way of teaching our children the art of gratitude is to just say No,” I don’t completely agree with that. I think no is a great place to start, but you also need to have repercussions for ungratefulness. For example, and I’m not saying that you handled the situation incorrectly, when your son said the action figure wasn’t the one he wanted, could a lesson in gratitude have been learned from responding with something like “Oh, it’s not? Okay, then we’ll give this one back,” and then actually following through with it

    As a second point, though I am not a parent on the “have everything we need” spectrum, I liked this: “For children who are blessed with loving parents, a comfortable lifestyle and access to an array of support, resources and opportunity, it is important that we grab any moments that we can to remind them off all they have.” I think that parent in that situation do need to remind their children of how fortunate they are and, from the other side of things, parents that aren’t able to provide anything and everything should take every opportunity to explain to their children that they still have a lot to be grateful for. And, perhaps more importantly, that it’s okay to not have all of those things.

    This was good read and I like the way you looked at it. I’ll check back regarding saying “no” because I may just have a thought or two to add.

    • Thanks for your insightful comments. Yes taking the toy away could have certainly been an effective option, and one that I have used since. (the follow through more effective at some times than others). And yes I do believe that we need to take time to explain to our children how fortunate they are, but I guess my point was that sometimes it is not enough to just use words to get a point across. It is very difficult for a young child (and many adults for that matter) to fully appreciate what they have in comparison to others unless they have witnessed it first hand. The just say “no” is really an important practical way of letting our kids know that they cant have everything and sometimes as parents we need to have control over this, without having to explain, negotiate, and over analyse in order for them to accept. (But yes more on that very soon) Thanks again for your very valid points.

  2. Troubled Grandson says:

    Please help me. I do everything I can to prepare food for my grandmother but she is always complaining – too soft, too hard, overcooked, undercooked, too oily, too fatty, too much, too little… in other words, she is an ingrate. I love her but she is driving me crazy! Will the techniques above work on such an ungrateful human being?

  3. Troubled Grandson says:

    Oh by the way, I have tried to remind my grandmother many times of how fortunate she is, but it just doesn’t work. I have also tried to take away her food. Nope. My next plan is to just arrange to have her order deliverywhen she is hungry. She picks what she wants and is free to criticize her own choices and all the fastfood in the world. This will also save us all the heartache. What do you think of that?

    • Well firstly, I am sorry you are having a difficult time with your grandmother. And whilst these techniques are focuesd on young people in order to prevent them getting to the ungrateful stage, it appears that you may need to outsource her food requirements. As one of my readers commented, sometimes it may be more effective to take away whatever it is they are complaining about in order for them to appreciate what they had. If this means politely explaining that it is proving too difficult for you to accommodate her needs and that you need to try something else, then as you said, she may very well get sick of the other options. Yes this is a tough situation for you. Not sure where you live but you may need to look at some community help i.e ‘meals on wheels’ to help alleviate some of the pressure on yourself.

  4. Glad we got this one linked up, it’s a great post! Following through on NO is a big one :)

  5. What a wonderful blog! I’ll be sure to come back here to read more.

    Katerina
    http://happymummysworld.blogspot.com/

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