Let’s talk about one of the biggest things that truly matters in life—learning gratitude. Most of us begin by teaching our children the big things like saying please and thank you or showing appreciation when someone does something for them or receiving a gift. This carries throughout one’s life. The real question is—did they learn to say and do the right things while going through the motions, or did they learn to pause and be grateful for what they have?
2020 has turned out to be a challenging year for many. It has also resulted in forcing most of us to stop and see what we are grateful for. Whether it’s grateful for a safe home, a steady job, good health, special moments with loved ones, the ability to FaceTime loved ones, or something as simple as waking up each morning, most people have felt gratitude differently this year. So, let’s go back to teaching this to our children and loved ones. The hope is that we don’t need a pandemic to force us to be aware of what we are or should be grateful for each day.
Here are a few ways to show our children how to begin to shift thinking and focus on how their actions can bring gratitude, happiness, and joy to others.
Begin each day with a grateful heart and intention to find gratitude in what the day brings. Mornings with kids can be crazy—getting ready for school, finding the computer to zoom, or simply brushing teeth. Try to help them think about their intentions in what they do and how their actions affect others each step of the day. The goal is to show them how their actions from the moment they get up can impact the people they cross paths with. (Be sure to model this behavior the best you can while the little one screams because they want different socks, or they’re fighting over who sat in the front seat last, or any of the joys the mornings bring.)
Talk about the highs and lows that took place that day. This can be fun to do while sitting down at dinner together. While they think about the not so fun thing, you can help by asking them to find a silver lining in that negative. The goal is to let the fun stuff shine and shift their thinking patterns if they get stuck in the icky moments that life is sure to bring.
End each day with a grateful heart and express gratitude. Getting in the habit of talking about your day with your kids can be both helpful and very special. Help them to draw their thoughts in their head out and ask them if they can think of anything that made them feel grateful that day. Remember, it doesn’t have to be big-ticket items. It can be something simple, like having their favorite snack.
Practice doing acts of kindness or service together with your children. This is, by far, one of the best things you can do as a parent. Ask your kids if they know of anything that they would like to do for another person. Maybe a friend’s family is struggling and could use some cookies. Or, maybe an elderly neighbor needs some leaves raked. You can even make cards for residents at a nearby nursing home. It doesn’t have to be volunteering at a shelter, but it can be too! It can even be done secretively. There is nothing gained through recognition; it’s just a truly kind act that was secretly performed. There’s no need to do this though, and you’ll know what feels right at the moment.
And last but not least, it can be fun to start a family charity. Start to save money here and there in a jar and watch it grow. When the money grows to a sizeable amount, sit down as a family and decide what you want to do with the money to give back.
All of these things will help your children to find joy and gratitude in their typical day to day routines. It also starts them on the path to recognizing that others might need help. Praise them when they do these things. Shout from the rooftop when they do them on their own! Everyone deserves a grateful heart and to find joy in moments that might also be challenging. Our children are our future, and we owe it to them to create a grateful heart.