Teaching Children Gratitude During the Holidays
"How wonderful it would be if we could help our children and grandchildren to learn thanksgiving at an early age. Thanksgiving opens the doors. It changes a child's personality. A child is resentful, negative or thankful. Thankful children want to give -- they radiate happiness, they draw people." -Sir John Templeton
The holiday season is a time of giving and parents often dedicate themselves to their children's happiness by giving them presents . . . lots of presents. And while there's no question that presents can result in a temporary feeling of happiness and excitement, it's also clear that the thrill can fade quickly. Receiving presents, even lots of beautifully wrapped, expensive ones, does not necessarily lead to a sense of appreciation. It might just as naturally lead to a sense of entitlement. Many parents struggle with this dilemma, in one way or another, during the holidays. How much is enough? How can we help our children to appreciate what they get? How can we help them to experience the joy of giving?
A sense of gratitude doesn't develop overnight, but in our everyday lives we can bring our family's attention to what we have rather than what we lack. We can take moments, here and there, to recognize our good fortune and the support that holds our lives together. For example, before dinner we can pause to think about our day, with a question such as "who helped us have a good day today?" Our family often considers this question, with each person identifying someone who played a positive role in the unfolding of the day. Perhaps Bi's friend gave her a piece of gum. Perhaps Chani's basketball coach took time to help her with her shooting. Perhaps one of our members sent along some kind words to me, or Barley (our Golden Retriever) did something that made Gregg laugh.
On Christmas morning our daughters are excited about all the intriguing mysteries that sit, beautifully wrapped, under the tree. We add an element of mindfulness to the excitement of opening gifts, which doesn't seem to detract from the fun at all. In fact, it adds significance. For example, we take turns opening gifts so that everyone's attention is on each person as they unwrap their mystery. We try to spend some time admiring and getting to know each gift before we move on. And we make sure to say "thanks" out loud, even to absentee gift givers. The process of opening gifts this way takes longer, but why would we want to rush through this long-anticipated special time? We'd love to hear about your own ideas and experiences related to cultivating gratitude in families.
During this past year I had the good fortune of stumbling upon the work of Vicki Hoefle. Vicki (who is almost a neighbor of ours, here in Vermont), is the founder of the Parenting On Track™ Home Program www.parentingontrack.com. I was blown away by the beauty and wisdom of her approach to parenting, which is very compatible with the spirit of our own work here at the ToDo Institute. Here's Vicki's perspective on gratitude and kids:
Enjoy your gifts. Give to others. Be the gift yourself.
Linda Anderson Krech
Little Dreams Come True: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Parenting