I can’t believe how quickly another year has flown by. In my family, the passing of time is marked by major life events: birthdays, vacations, kids’ sports activities, the end of school, the beginning of school and holidays. Everything in between seems like a blur. Sometimes it’s hard to slow down and appreciate all the things that really matter in life, like the health and happiness of my family, friends — and me! So when this month’s question came in, it got me thinking about how we teach children about gratitude.
This monthly column provides tips for anyone who is helping raise children, based on the world-renowned Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, available to families in Santa Cruz County. If you have a question or idea for a future column, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s getting harder to enjoy the holidays because the chaos starts earlier each year. I saw Halloween candy in stores this summer and Christmas decorations before Halloween. It’s too much! I want my kids to understand that the holidays are about more than candy and gifts and that we should be grateful for what we have. I also can’t afford everything they want, but my kids just seem to want more, more, more. I’m worried they’ll grow up to be spoiled and ungrateful. What should I do?
I’ll bet you’re not the only person who feels the meaning of holidays often gets lost among all the sales and wrapping paper. It’s natural for children to get caught up in the excitement of holiday celebrations, especially ones that involve gifts. The anticipation of opening a present is very appealing. But you raise a good question about how to teach children to be grateful for things other than material objects. Research shows that grateful people tend to be happier, more optimistic and more satisfied. Having an “attitude of gratitude” helps people develop positive relationships with others and feel connected to their community. Here are some tips to teach your children about gratitude:
Teach gratitude through modeling. There’s a saying that “Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher.” As parents and caregivers, we can teach our children how to be grateful by expressing our own gratitude through words, affection and other acts of kindness. Start by modeling how to say “please” and “thank you” to your children, your partner and others you interact with. Then take it a step further by talking about the things you appreciate on an everyday basis. Show your gratitude for both material objects and intangible things, such as love, affection and help from others.
Make gratefulness a habit. The holidays usually serve as a reminder about being grateful for what we have, helping others and giving back. However, the attitude of gratitude often fades in the New Year. Try creating routines in your family so that gratefulness becomes a habit throughout the year. Pick a time to talk about the things each person appreciated or felt good about that day (hint: family meals are a great time for this). Reassure your children it’s OK to be grateful for their “things” (yes, even electronic devices), and encourage them to notice the little things we often take for granted: a friend’s kind words, a sibling’s help with a chore or a vibrant sunset.
Encourage children to help and care for others. Sometimes, the more we try to teach our children by talking, the less they actually learn. It’s the Murphy’s Law of parenting. One way to educate children about gratefulness is by having them help and care for others. This gives them a chance to practice being thoughtful, patient, generous and empathetic toward others. And when they receive gratitude from other people, they experience the positive feelings that come from having their efforts recognized. This holiday season, try finding an activity your whole family can help with – provide toys and food for families in need, or serve meals at a shelter. Involve your children in picking the activity and talk about how it will be helpful. Acknowledge their helpfulness during the activity. Afterwards, ask them how it felt to help others. Continue to look for opportunities to help others so your children learn to give and receive gratitude throughout the year.
Final Thoughts: Gratitude is about much more than saying “please” and “thank you.” It’s about being aware of and thankful for the positive people and circumstances in our lives, instead of taking them for granted. Feeling and expressing gratitude is a skill children can learn through modeling and practice. They may not always get it right, especially when presents are involved. But then again, many of us adults are still trying to get it right, too.
Nicole Young is the mother of two children, ages 11 and 14, who also manages Santa Cruz County's Triple P - Positive Parenting Program, the world's leading positive parenting program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is made available locally by First 5 Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (Mental Health Services Act) and the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department. For more information, including classes and one-on-one meetings to help parents handle everyday parenting challenges, visit http://triplep.first5scc.org, www.facebook.com/triplepscc or www.youtube.com/triplepsantacruzco. To find a Triple P class or practitioner, contact First 5 Santa Cruz County at 465-2217 or email@example.com.