Julien Stiehl is only 3, but thanks to his mom, Renata, he is already learning to be thankful for what he has. As an attorney and social justice activist, Stiehl wants her son to learn that he has much to be grateful for.
"We live in a media-driven, disposable society where it becomes much too easy to take our good fortune and everyday conveniences for granted," says this Chicago mom, "and this is not just for our children, but for us as well."
Teaching your kids to be grateful doesn’t have to be a struggle. Try a few of these tips to help them see how lucky they are.
1. Recognizing overabundance. Today’s society shows us how much there is to have and in turn makes us feel as if we have so little. Technology drives our connected world, but it constantly changes and is expensive. Kids want to keep up with the latest gadget, but most parents are hard-pressed to pay for every extravagance.
"We can’t pull the plug on our technological planet," says Dr. Aaron Cooper, clinical psychologist and co-author of I Just Want My Kids To Be Happy: Why You Shouldn’t Say It, Why You Shouldn’t Think It, What You Should Embrace Instead. "Our natural tendency is to compare ourselves to others and we feel discontent. The antidote for discontent is thankfulness."
2. Acts of kindness. Teach your kids that small favors not only make others feel good, but give them a sense of happiness. Something simple like helping to empty the dishwasher, cleaning up a sibling’s toys or offering to assist an older neighbor with little tasks can go a long way towards fostering a sense of gratitude in children.
"Kids engaging in loving acts of kindness … calls attention to the ways they themselves are blessed or skilled or fortunate," Cooper says.
3. Explain it. Don’t just tell your kids to be grateful, sit them down and explain why it is so important. Better yet, take them out into the real world and show them how others live to let them see that not everybody else has more than they do. The goal is to show your kids they are simply different from others, not better or worse because of what they do or do not have.
4. Set goals. In addition to writing out a Christmas list, ask your kids to write a wish list for things they would like to see happen in their lives. Keep it positive and spend time focusing on goals rather than material goods. If kids see some improvement in their own lives, they will become more grateful for what they have.
5. Counting blessings. Ask your kids to focus on the intangible aspects of their lives rather than counting their Nintendo DS games or Barbie dolls. Think about talents like drawing or excelling at math, give thanks for friends and family and spend a day enjoying life without technology.
"The reality is we don’t really need a lot, especially in the way of material possessions and it’s healthier to avoid getting caught up in who has what," Stiehl says.
6. Role playing. If your kids are shy or reluctant to show gratitude, encourage them to role play with you. Teach them to give their remarks with a genuine smile, which makes everyone involved feel special.
7. Keep talking. Don’t just expect your kids to remember their gratitude after discussing it one time. Kids need reinforcement from their parents.
"If you don’t talk to them, you’ll lose an important opportunity to teach them," says Dr. Susan Smith Kuczmarksi, author of The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent’s Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go. "Start the conversation and be open to more."
8. Thank you text. If your tweens have trouble communicating with you, then talk to them on their level. Send an e-mail or a text thanking them for something they’ve done or just to let them know you love them. If they know that gratitude can be expressed in new ways, they may be more likely to send you a THX (thanks in texting) next time you help them out.
9. Catch them in the act. Don’t let any good deed go unnoticed. If you thank your kids on a regular basis, they will learn to reciprocate. Focusing on a gratitude lecture doesn’t help if you don’t reinforce their actions.
10. Model contentedness. Kids spend hours every week observing their parents, whose attitudes make a significant impact on the emotional development of their kids. Let them see you expressing gratitude.
"When parents model gratitude it teaches their kids how to treat others. Simply remember to say thank you," Kuczmarski says.
Michelle Sussman is a mom, wife and writer in Bolingbrook.