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Teaching Gratitude

It is a common tradition in families to share gratitude during a Thanksgiving meal. We go around in a circle, one-by-one offering thanks for our many blessings. For our children it is often a small momentary blip of gratitude in an otherwise mindless pursuit of “really want this” and “must have that.”

We live in the presence of such abundance and instant gratification in our culture that understandably our children get lost in it. It is hard for them to see the benefits of working hard and patiently saving their allowance for a much-desired item. It’s a challenge to see the bounty of food, love, and safety they’re enveloped in. When life feels good and easy, we are often the least present to our blessings. When life is hard, gratitude emerges.

 So, how do we teach our children gratitude without hardship?

Gratitude, like compassion and empathy, is not a value you can force on your child. It must be modeled and made a priority by caregivers. It is a value we can inspire and nurture, but ultimately a child only finds true gratitude on their own.

 Here are some ideas for growing gratitude in your family:  

1) Have a dinnertime ritual where each person says one thing they are grateful for that day.

 2) Model gratitude! When your child does something helpful or kind, give sincere thanks to them for their kind gesture.

 3) Make a holiday tradition in which each year as a family you do something in service to those in need. Volunteer at a food pantry, deliver meals to seniors, serve food at the homeless shelter. Let your kids help decide how they’d like to serve others.

 4) Encourage charitable donations. Give your child a “donation allowance” each month/year that they can choose to donate to a cause that means something to them.

 5) Share your own moments of gratitude. Those moments when you feel so lucky to have a healthy, connected family….when the sunset takes your breath away….when you just feel lucky to be alive in this beautiful world….share your thoughts with your kids.

Spontaneous thoughts of gratitude in the presence of your children can be powerfully inspiring to them.

 “Isn’t that sunset amazing? I feel so lucky to live in such a beautiful world.”

“You two are so silly. I love watching you play together. I’m so happy I get to be your mama.”

“Today was a hard day at work, but I feel so grateful to be home with my family….my favorite place on earth.”

 Helping your children grow into adults that express gratitude to those around them is a powerful gift. Being “grateful” is intimately partnered with being “present.” The more we are aware of the beauty before us, the greater our appreciation of it, and vice versa.

 So in closing, let me model my own gratitude to some important grown-ups in my life:

 To the many parents out there that have supported me in my work, and have allowed me the incredible gift of serving them….I’m tremendously grateful. I continue to be inspired by you, taught by you, moved by you, in a million ways. Thank you, for letting me in your hearts and trusting me.

To my own parents, who have taught me that anything is possible if you are brave enough to open your heart and put one foot in front of the other….that we are powerful, even when we’re feeling our smallest. And thank you for not only loving me, but for showing me the many reasons I deserve to be loved.

And finally to my husband, who has expanded the corners of my heart in ways I could never have imagined….thank you for the generosity that is your love. You’ve taught me what selfless love truly looks like, and how it feels to receive it….a gift I’m enormously grateful to receive.

With love and gratitude,  

Bethany