Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues,
but the parent of all others. — Cicero
In view of the relative cushiness here in Singapore, it’s hard for children to run away from feelings of entitlement. Even as a parent who tries to be frugal, I fall prey to the shopping bug from time to time, especially when I see cute little dresses or shirts and educational toys. I don’t often have a very good reason to present my kids with gifts, so sometimes I make them up. (Terrible, I know.)
Even as an adult, it’s easy amidst the busy-ness of the day to take things for granted, and this applies especially to the people who are closest to us – family.
In such a context, teaching and modelling gratefulness becomes all the more important. Studies have shown that gratitude is linked to greater social support and even offers protection against stress and depression in the long term.
Here are 8 ways to help us teach thankfulness to our children.
1) Be a thankful role model
Kids learn first by observing us, their parents. So it’s good to check our attitudes and our grateful-o-meter once in a while. Are we thankful for the good things that we have and enjoy in life, and for the people whom we are connected to? Do we express this in tangible ways such as through words or showing other gestures of appreciation? I believe that we can only do more in this department. And one great way is to begin at home, with your spouse, children and elderly parents.
2) Don’t overlook the small things
To cultivate a heart of thankfulness, we need to remember and show appreciation for the small. (Often the kids remind me of this as they jump for joy and say “thanks mummy!” when I present them with their favourite ice-cream or brownie treat.)
If someone opens the door for you or holds the lift for you, thank them. Make saying “thank you” such a daily (but not mindless) affair that your kids catch on the spirit of saying thanks. You can also encourage the kids to thank your helper, their grandparents, or even the staff at the restaurant for cooking a lovely meal for them.
3) Count your blessings
Sometimes we look at others and start to feel lousy when we don’t have that nice car, or that high-flying job. It’s human to compare but do catch yourself when you do it, and remind yourself of the goodness in your lives by counting blessings together. Make it a nightly ritual as you tuck the kids to bed, to name at least one thing that they are thankful for that day. When you take time to remember your blessings, you start to switch your focus to the things you do have, and to see things from a cup-half-full perspective. It is also part of the process of learning positivity and contentment.
4) Notice the less privileged
One of the ways to cultivate feelings of gratitude is to expose your children to the less privileged around us. By that I don’t mean grabbing your child to look at someone living with less, and saying “See, if you keep fighting with your sister, I’ll give all your toys away to the poor!” (We’ve all said such things before, haven’t we?)
When you meet someone who comes from a less privileged background, talk to your child about that person. Ask questions such as, “Why do you think this man needs to ask for money on the street?” and “How do you think we can help him?” I think this can be done age-appropriately, and over time, your child will learn to be more aware of the people around us, and not just focus on his / her own needs and wants.
5) Encourage helping
Christmas is around the corner, how about getting a shoebox to fill up with gifts to donate to the needy? Or for your child’s birthday, talk to them about donating a portion of the gifts received. Perhaps you can use the cash gifts to sponsor a child through World Vision or other charities.
Whatever project you choose to be involved in, make sure you get the kids to think about what might make useful gifts, otherwise it’s easy for them to think that anything they don’t really like can be a gift to others. Emphasise to them that giving involves sacrifice and placing others’ needs above our own.
6) Make appreciation cards
Instead of hopping to a mall to buy gifts, why not make something meaningful like writing a card or an appreciation note? Written notes and cards have been superseded by emails and text messages, but really, they never go out of style. It’s one of the easiest ways for children to show their love to adults too – by drawing on a card and writing simple messages like “I love you” or “Thank you for…”
7) Channel their talents towards charitable causes
Maybe your child loves to paint, or make cards, or even bake. Whatever their skills and interests may be, find a way to help them use their talents for charitable causes. You may even be nurturing their social entrepreneurial spirit if they keep this up.
8) Make them earn their keep
The next time your child asks you for a new toy or a new mobile phone for that matter, make them earn it. Using age-appropriate chores or tasks, your child will learn that it takes hard work and effort to earn money, and will gradually appreciate every dollar or cent that they spend on their favourite things. Now, you’re not only teaching them about gratitude, you’re also teaching them money management skills, which will serve them well for the rest of their lives.