I haven’t blogged about anything “mom” in ages. There’s no real reason. We’re just carrying on, being in the groove, working it out as we go along. She turned 10 recently, and there are a few changes. I won’t go into them – my kid is never as interesting to you as she is to me! But, one of the conversations we’ve been having lately is on focussing on the positive, looking at what we have vs what we don’t, and expressing gratitude rather than scratching around for things to be unhappy about.
Teaching gratitude should start early, but it often doesn’t. There are too many people (adults) in this world that just don’t see the big sheet of white paper because they’re focussing on the tiny black dot – they don’t see the beauty, the love, the fun, the excitement. They’re too busy worrying about the “what if’s” and “I wishes”. It’s exhausting. And it’s a black hole – focussing on what you don’t have is an endless pit. Focussing on what you do have is finite and quantifiable, which makes it so satisfying.
Teaching children to be grateful sounds hard because it means teaching them how to feel something. But, it starts with teaching them how to think about a situation. Once they can approach a situation with an open, positive mindset, they’re far more likely to see and appreciate the good.
On a day when she was miserable about not being able to do something, I asked my daughter to think about some of the things that she could be grateful for (apart from the basics like food and water). She wrote:
All the hugs and kisses in the world.
That I have a mom and dad that care for me.
That I have enough toys to make a river.
I have a mom that cares about how I feel.
I have the most mooi room from dad and mom. (The use of Afrikaans words always scores extra points in this very English house)
But, more than what she wrote was her face when she handed me the letter. She was smiling from ear to ear and gave me a massive hug. I asked her if she felt better for having thought of these plusses, and she said she couldn’t believe the difference. So, I’ve done a bit of digging for more ideas on how to cultivate an attitude of gratitude in our kids; because it makes them happier, and it teaches them to be better people.
How to Teach Gratitude (and Be More Grateful)
Say thank you in as many situations as possible, write “thank you” notes, and comment on the things that you appreciate.
Help someone that can’t pay you back
Looking for opportunities to help people less fortunate will show that happiness comes from giving, not receiving. Volunteering or charity work is a great way to show your kids how much they have to be grateful for, and how they can show their appreciation by helping others.
Experience the joy of giving
Ask your child to prepare, buy or make a special gift for someone that has helped them. This could be for their teacher, a tutor that has gone the extra mile, or a kind person at the shop. When they have to experience the sacrifice (whether in terms of money or effort), they learn what gratitude feels and looks like. And the happiness that they feel fuels them to show more people this gratitude.
Look for those special moments
Every day can be an average, treadmill, hamster-wheel kind of day if we don’t look for the rays of sunshine. Every day, when we’re driving home from school, I ask my daughter what the highlight of her day was. Sometimes, she asks me what mine was. I love being forced to find positives, even if we’ve both had a tough or stressful day. There are always more positives than negatives. And, now, when the good things happen, I make a mental note to add that to my list of highlights. This could also be done at bedtime or around the dinner table with the whole family.
Write in a journal
If a gratitude journal is good enough for Oprah, it’s good enough for me. This is personal but also forces you to think about the top five or ten things to be grateful for each day. The goal is to make the list different each day.
Compliment other people
By looking for the positives in each other and complimenting them on it, we teach our children to do the same. Sometimes, when my daughter is having a good moan about her arch-nemesis at school (she’s quite harmless, they’re just too similar to see eye-to-eye), I ask her to name three good things about the child too. She comes up with them quite quickly and we can too, if we really try.
Search for silver linings
In irritating situations, try to turn the frustration into something that has value – something learnt or gained. When your little one is complaining about something, encourage them to turn the problem into a lesson or into something that they can appreciate rather than resent.
Enjoy the small stuff
Wherever you go, look for average, everyday things that are really quite special. When you walk down your driveway, point out a colourful butterfly and the pretty markings on its wings. When your child sits in front of another plate of salad with that miserable frown, ask them to rearrange all of the tomatoes and cucumbers into a fun shape before they eat it. Help them to see beauty where it might not be obvious.
More than any of this, I guess the point is to lead by example and to spend enough time with our kids. This is the only way they’ll learn real gratitude. Comment if you have tips to add to this list x