Gratitude is more than training your kid to say “thank you” out of obligation. While that’s a start, true gratitude is learned by gently encouraging your kids to 1) appreciate what they have, and 2) think about what others may be feeling. The most effective way to achieve this is to integrate habits of gratefulness and kindness into your family’s everyday life. Kids as young as two will start to build a foundation of gratitude with these simple steps.
1) Talk about the Little Things:
Asking simple questions about what your children like gives them the opportunity to articulate what they enjoy about what’s right in front of them. Condition your kids to think about what they appreciate by taking time to notice and observe things around you when on a hike or a walk in the neighborhood. Begin by saying what you like: talk about the color of the leaves, or stop and smell a flower, or watch a flock of birds. Eventually, you can ask your kids what they see and notice, and have a conversation about what they see that makes them happy. As a parent, do the same when getting a gift: take a moment to look at it and talk about the things you like (Wow, these slippers are so soft!). And ultimately, as children age, you can practice this habit in difficult situations. Maybe there’s someone that your tween isn’t getting along with at school. Practice identifying qualities that your child appreciates in that person, even if they don’t get along.
2) Set Expectations Around Shopping:
Shopping with kids can be THE WORST if you aren’t prepared with a game plan. Make a strategy that you can stick to, like “We are going to the store today. You can pick one thing whose price starts with the number 2”. As kids get older, give them choices. Like an episode of Let’s Make a Deal, give your kids the option to save their money on this trip and instead get something bigger later. Or come up with a family goal for saving, like a vacation to a place they haven’t been, or a trip to see a favorite sports team in action, and use that as negotiating power against buying cartloads of crap they’ll use once and forget about. And, when possible, avoid spending all your family time pushing a shopping cart. Getting a library card is a great way to teach about borrowing, responsibility and getting as many things as you want…. that you will have to return later.
3) Make Gratitude, Giving and Kindness Part of the Family Routine:
Its starts with setting an example: make sure you express your gratitude loudly and happily when you are out and about, thanking the grocery clerk, the teller at the bank, and even the driver who let you merge in front of them. But there are many other ways to creatively encourage these qualities at home. For instance, at the dinner table or before bed, have each family member say one thing they were grateful for during their day. Have a pom pom jar for kindness: every time a child does something kind they add to the jar, and receive a prize when it’s full. Each time you buy something new, find something old (clothing or toy or book) to donate. When grocery shopping, give your kids a set amount of money to buy canned goods of their choice for the local food bank. Or, buy a bouquet of flowers and have your toddler hand them out to people they see in the aisles. When they see the smile they bring to strangers’ faces, they will understand how good it feels to give.
4) Give as much as you get:
Around the holidays, life gets chaotic. We all become victims of our to-do lists and Amazon is our go-to. But as much as you can, make a point to shop for or make gifts with your children in tow. Let them pick out a gift for their cousin or make their teacher something special. Talk about how much time and consideration your child put into picking out just the right thing. By including your kids in the giving of gifts, they learn the time, effort, consideration and thoughtfulness that goes into finding or making just the right thing. When they get a gift, talk about how that gift came from the heart of the giver, identify the qualities you appreciate about the gift and mention how much thought went into finding something special. Before entering a situation where your kids will receiving gifts they might not like from Great Aunt Nellie, talk to your kids about Aunt Nellie’s intentions of doing something nice for them. There is no harm in telling them, even if it’s a gift they don’t like, prepare to say thank you and look for the qualities of the gift that they appreciate.
5) Don’t be afraid to leave the comfort zone:
As parents, it’s our job to shield our kids from difficult situations. But often, that unintentionally translates into avoiding opportunities to learn about people who are less fortunate than ourselves. Make a point to expose your kids to people from all walks of life. Don’t shield them from hardship but encourage age-appropriate ways for kids to experience a life less fortunate. Talk about the man you see sleeping on the bench, and explain that, sadly, some people don’t have a home. With young kids, make blessing bags to hand out to people in the neighborhood who need help or draw pictures to take to a local nursing home. Find opportunities to volunteer with your kids, by working in a soup kitchen or offering to visit patients in the hospital. Exposing children to those less fortunate not only instills a sense of compassion and service, but also helps them see how lucky they truly are.
6) Make doing good a game:
The Mama Sagas is partnering with Kyndhub to offer a series of gratitude and giving challenges over the holidays! Our first gratitude challenge will run through Sunday, November 26 and is sponsored by Chatbooks. Encourage your family members to sign up for a free, individual Kyndhub account, and type The Mama Sagas into the search bar. You’ll see the Thanksgiving Gratitude challenge in the drop down list; join the group, and start posting what you are grateful for! If we reach our collective goal of 500 posts by November 26, we will make a donation to Every Mother Counts. And, one lucky participant will be selected at random to win a $100 Chatbooks credit! If you are inclined, please also share your experience on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram under the hashtag #mamasmovemountains. All you have to do is post what you are grateful for, and you might win. It’s as simple as that. Why? Because when we put more gratitude, giving and kindness into the world, we all win.
To learn more, watch my segment on Inspiring Gratitude on Colorado’s Everyday Show!
Saralyn Ward is an award-winning writer, wellness advocate, and mountain mama. She is the founder of The Mama Sagas, writes for several publications and hosts a regular parenting TV segment on Colorado's Everyday Show. When she's not huddled over edits, you're likely to find Saralyn climbing peaks or skiing down them, and reminding herself that the two little girls that call her mom are not the boss of her.