One major thing I struggle with is teaching my sons to be grateful for what they have. It’s not easy — as I’m sure many of you would agree with. It’s hard to just say “be grateful!” Reminds me of a story my mother used to tell about how her own mom would prod her to eat up her dinner (my mother didn’t like anything and would subsist on milk alone if she could; she didn’t even like sweets), saying, “Be glad you have this food! There are children starving in India!” To which my mother would, quite naturally for a child, reply: “So send it to them!” She wasn’t trying to be clever. Sending the food seemed practical to her. Being grateful for it? Too abstract for most little children’s minds.
But it is an essential concept to teach, because children who aren’t grateful for what they have can potentially become what no parent wants: selfish, grabby, whiny. And it doesn’t stop there, says my guest poster today, children’s book author Phoebe Lee: “If they aren’t grateful children, they will be incapable of becoming grateful adults. Gratitude is often the difference between a happy person and a dissatisfied person, and we all want our kids to grow up happy.”
Lee writes about ADHD, children’s sleep issues, and parenting from a Buddhist perspective. She is the author of the new children’s picture book, “Monkey Mind: A Captivating Bedtime Story for Children” and the accompanying children’s audio, “Monkey, Fish, Dragon.” Here’s her book:
When she asked if I wanted a guest post about teaching young kids to be grateful, I leaped (gratefully!) at the chance. Here’s what she has to offer:
Three Ways to Teach Young Kids to be Grateful:
Easy come easy go. Waiting for objects of desire teaches a child not to expect instant gratification. A child that cannot wait for their next toy or treat can become very difficult to deal with. Fits and tantrums often set in. Do not reward your child with a gift for such behavior. Ignore the behavior, and provide an immediate consequence. An ungrateful child usually discards his or her favorite toy for the next as if the first were disposable. He or she will never truly value anything at this rate. What’s worth having is worth waiting for, is the lesson to teach, here. Don’t let your child grow up trying to keep up with The Joneses. It is helpful if he is encouraged to save up money or earn money himself for the next gadget; there’s nothing that helps children appreciate items more than having had to work for them.
Make Gratitude Lists
For younger children this can be presented as a game. Ask your children what they like about themselves and their lives. Do this often to encourage this healthy habit. For older children, suggest they make a daily list of everything they enjoy in their lives. When they are having a bad day you could remind them of the little things that they often take for granted. Remind them to include not only the material things: A good friend who sat next to them in the lunchroom at school, the time to finish that really good novel, the way the birds chirp right before dawn.
Do Charity Projects
There is always someone less fortunate than us, regardless of the circumstance in which we find ourselves. Find a group or person and offer your time or your valuables. Make a project out of it to express the value of this behavior to your child, and if possible, do it alongside your child so that they also enjoy the benefits. Do this consistently during holidays or throughout the year so that your child will adopt being charitable as a part of his or her lifestyle. A good time to help others is when you are feeling down yourself. Teach this to your child. When you are helping another you are no longer in a state of self-pity and will gain perspective. There are many organizations that need support. Pick one and educate your child about the situations of others. Show him or her that even a child can make a difference in the world. The act of charity will also provide your child (and you) a sense of purpose and belonging.
There is nothing more pleasing than seeing a contented child, except, seeing your contented child offering a helping hand to someone less fortunate than they are. Imagine less complaining and a new child emerging! Follow these steps toward a grateful child.
Visit Phoebe Lee’s blog and follow her book tour at Monkey Mind Book. And then tell me, how have you been frustrated by teaching kids gratitude, and how have you managed to do it?