Nurturing a Habit of Gratitude… Not Just an Attitude

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love holiday time. For the celebration, tradition and connection to my faith and roots. The acquaintance with old and new friends through cards, letters and gatherings.  It brings me joy to hear my kids sing a song, laugh endlessly and see the sparkle of hope in their eyes.  I anticipate all year these precious moments with family, friends and the people I cherish the most.

These are memories I know will forever imprint themselves in the consciousness of my children. These are occasions to be embraced, they are special and set aside.  I do my very best to make them different from any other day.

I’m reminded with the hustle of the holidays, giving thanks and advent, getting family organized, turkey, travel plans, holiday programs and gifts that this season is about more.  It’s about giving and gratitude.

I stop to ask myself as I unpack a box of decorations or make another shopping-list…do my kids understand why we do all of this? Do my children grasp the real meaning of giving? 

I wonder sometimes if we are so busy putting on the holiday for our children to experience that we forget to teach them what the celebration is about and what we value?

The reality is that learning gratitude is not just a holiday virtue. It is a yearlong and life-long lesson that begins at birth. Teaching gratitude begins and is modeled at home. It continues to evolve far beyond teaching the words to our babies “please” and “thank-you.”

For all of us gratitude allows perspective and encourages healthy relationships. It enables us to live a genuine, sincere life free from arrogance. Teaching our children to be grateful will plant seeds of humility.  How does a child internalize appreciation? Teaching gratitude is a strategic and age-appropriate investment in your child’s understanding of what the world has given to provide for their needs. The most important facet to cultivating habits of gratitude is developing a relationship with your child to explain and demonstrate teachable moments throughout each age and stage of their life.

Nurturing a Habit of Gratitude..Not Just an Attitude

 Resist Over Indulgence 

Resist the urge to over indulge your child. In the age of hyper parenting, overscheduling and helicopter parenting we are constantly looking for ways to make sure our children do not suffer or “feel” anything negative. One of these ways is to shower our children with “stuff”. When we constantly give our children material possessions, they never learn the concept of delayed gratification and they only want what is newer, better, shinier or brighter. They never learn what it means to earn and the lesson of true sacrifice when someone gives something to them.

 Children Financially Contribute

Every family has a different system of financial allowance and how children earn money. Allowance and work ethic go hand-in-hand. When children work for something and they earn money, they begin developing a sense of understanding for the sacrifice others make when something is given to them. When children take the time to save up, have ownership and understand what it takes to earn a dollar they will be more realistic and begin learning what others do for them.

 Set Expectations of Respect

I don’t think I can put enough emphases on the word respect. We have been working on this in our home too. Children don’t learn this value unless it’s taught to them and it starts and is reinforced in the home. Respect is a verb. It is a word that means esteem, regard, admiration, reverence and honor. You can have love but you must also have respect. I have seen many children in my career struggle in school, with parents and friendships because they have not learned the importance of respect. When we teach our children to treat all people (not just authority figures) with respect the seeds of appreciation and how the world has provided for their needs will continue to grow. The value of respect helps children to be less likely to take for granted the everyday things that are truly blessings in their lives.

 Be Honest in your Gratitude, Be Real

Kids are smart. The “lets all share what we are grateful about game” may only last for a few years before you have to change things up and make sure the conversation stays interesting for your young critical thinkers. Keeping gratitude real and getting to the heart means that even in the tough times maybe we can find something to be grateful about? This can be difficult for adults because it has to be honest. If someone is in the hospital or has had a car accident (but no one got hurt), what can you say that is still genuine, sincere and real that shows gratitude?

 Model & Encourage Giving Back

There are many ways to impart this concept age-appropriately. When children are involved in giving back to something that impacts their lives like their school, church/synagogue or neighborhood, gratitude begins to take root and have more personal meaning. Think of areas in children’s lives that influence them and talk about what they can do to help others. Holiday time is a perfect opportunity to support other people in need. For example, children can find extra dollars in their allowance to purchase toys or clothes for needy children their age. Another idea for older kids is to help trusted neighbors or friends in weeding, mowing, house sitting or pet sitting. Preschoolers can make cards, pictures or plant flowers.

 Serving Others & Spirituality

For families who seek spirituality there are ways to be deliberate with children about matters of the heart and soul. Within the regularity of everyday life, families who reflect on spirituality can become cognizant of what is sacred by inserting components that could otherwise seem insignificant. We often discover that the lines between spiritual matters and what is secular can become distorted. So when nurturing the habit of gratitude with our kids in a spiritual context it’s important to acknowledge blessings by naming them, giving thanks for them and modeling your gratitude as a parent. Extending your spirituality by serving others and personal prayers will help children develop a sense of your family values and what is important to you.

 

This holiday season as I do my very best- like every other mommy out there to make each day extraordinarily special for my children and family, I will also do so with the spirit of nurturing a habit of gratitude in my children. Because it’s not necessarily what I put on the tree or how I set the table centerpiece that matter, it’s the memories we make around the evergreen and in the conversations we have around the table that are important.

I’m investing in these 3 hearts to be humble, gracious servants of others. They are learning how to act in life and interpreting all of the powerful meanings and messages they see in the world by watching, listening and following me. I will do my best to give thanks continuously, for my three children are the greatest blessing I have ever received.

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