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!