How To Practice & Teach Gratitude

By: Cecilia Hilkey


I was having a cup of tea with a girlfriend the other day and she was talking about how her kids just don’t really seem to appreciate what she does for them. She said it’s not always like this, but there are times when her daughter will look at a closet full of clothes and say that she has “nothing to wear”. Or my friend will make breakfast for her daughter and the daughter will say, “You didn’t make it right!” and throw it in the trash.

Here’s the thing about this situation. I know these kids. They are great kids. This is an awesome mom and a wonderful family. And (confessional time)…. There are times when my own kids don’t have as much gratitude as I’d like, for what they have or what we do for them. And I’m also a great mom.

Same thing in your house too, huh? So how do us superb parents help our kids–who are also awesome–develop gratitude and thankfulness?



1. DEVELOP A GRATITUDE PRACTICE PERSONALLY AND WITH YOUR FAMILY

Kids imitate what they see. If they hear you being thankful for the blue sky, green grass, the food that you have to eat, your home, and your clothes, they will begin to be thankful for those same things and even more.


During a meal, having each family member share what they are thankful for, is a wonderful family practice. Challenge children to think of something new each time.

2. ACKNOWLEDGE AND APPRECIATE EACH OTHER

Our role modeling is also important when it comes to our relationships. My husband and I frequently acknowledge each other for doing small and large things (making dinner, taking out the trash, or planning a wonderful birthday surprise).


We say it something like this… “Thank you for (make an observation). I felt (state the feeling) because it really helped me met my need for (state the need).”


Our children have picked up the same language.. Sometimes during family time we will acknowledge each other. But the best time to use this is at the end of a rough day or after an argument. It’s magical.

3. BEING A “HELPING FAMILY”

Sometimes children, understandably, don’t see all the things that their parents do for them to help the family function. Without us parents acting like a victim, or a jerk about it, we can help children see how each person contributes in their own way to the family. How each of us is a part of a “helping family”.


Steven Covey, in Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families, tells a story about how he did this with his own family. I’ll paraphrase it here.


During a family meeting he said, “Ok, who wants to make the money? All right, I’ll do that. Drive the car to school, sports, and friends’ houses? That’s me too. Who wants to pay the taxes and the bills? Ok, kids, I can handle that too. Who can help with the dishes?” And he waited for one of his kids to respond. “Set the table?” He waited again. And they split up the chores in the house, with each person knowing that they all contributed something valuable and unique to the family. Certainly, young children might need help and support with their chores (older kids might too).


Children who participate with family chores will naturally begin to appreciate all the other things that their parents do for them.

4. “PAY TO PLAY”

Starting when our children were 7 years old, they often times have paid for a portion of their extra curricular activities–theatre classes, music lessons, horseback riding, sports activities, school trips, and summer camps.


When our children want to do something we talk about what is appropriate for us to contribute and for them to contribute. They have earned money by doing work around the house, selling homemade crafts and baked goods, babysitting, saving up birthday and Christmas money, and even bartering.


This works well for a number of reasons. Our children really appreciate their extra-curricular activities because they have helped pay for them. They are selective and thoughtful about what they want to participate in. They rarely get into something and decide to quit. And they have developed some entrepreneurial skills, like planning, budgeting, market testing, sales, customer service, and marketing.


It’s been a win-win all around. And, because there is flexibility with this arrangement, if there is ever something that my husband or I really want them to try then we can just offer to pay for the whole thing.

5. BIRTHDAY PARTIES

We have a set budget for how much we spend celebrating a birthday.


The girls know in advance how much money they will receive from us. We tell them that they can either use that money to have a party and invite friends OR we can use it to buy them gifts and have a smaller family-only party.


Then they get to decide how many people to invite, what activities they want, if they want to serve their guests homemade or store bought food, what decorations they’d like and anything else. They research different options and budget it out. And so far it’s worked out really well.

6. VOLUNTEER AND TRAVEL

A couple of times in our classroom, we took field trips to see things in “not so nice” parts of Los Angeles. My husband and I believe that, for a child who is old enough and mature enough, there is nothing like traveling to other parts of town OR serving people who are less fortunate, to bring some perspective and “real life” experience to our children.


Be prepared for your children to ask questions about what they see, and to give them simple, honest answers. And do you know what all that perspective gives your children? You guessed it…. Gratitude!






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