Is gratitude missing in your home? This mom thought so until she took a closer look.
I’ve had identical parenting woe conversations with a few friends recently. We all have only children from 4 to 8-years-old and are struggling with instilling a sense of gratitude within them.
We don’t want to take belongings away as that doesn’t work and is a negative spin. I’m thinking this is not just our struggle.—Brooke Takhar (daughter 6) BC, Canada
See if this perspective helps. Think of it not as instilling but as bringing out the hidden STRENGTH of gratitude that is already there in the child.
Several things can make gratitude difficult for kids (and adults) to recognize. The first is that humans are perfectly designed to adapt and normalize everything in their environment. Those gifts make it possible for us to survive and even thrive in almost any situation. But they also make it hard to remember how amazing many things are. (For the antidote, watch my Breakfast with Sandy video clip: Normalizing and Amazing-ing.)
The second is that gratitude implies that there’s a source you can thank, but for children, the things in their life just “are.” It’s part of their gift of being present.
Kids are very present. They don’t worry about where something comes from. They simply enjoy it in the moment.
Enjoying something fully in the present moment is the experience of abundance we all long for.
However, we unconsciously introduce scarcity when we assume gratitude is not there and teach it as something children “should” feel because others have so much less than they do. That adds guilt. Gratitude becomes even more distasteful when we make it something they owe because someone "worked their fingers to the bone" to buy things for them. That adds obligation. It becomes even worse when we teach that not showing gratitude hurts people’s feelings. Now it’s a weapon. Then we wonder why instilling gratitude in our children is a struggle!
Kids naturally fight against the concept of scarcity. Struggle is a big clue that you are off track. Since teaching scarcity is not your goal, it helps to get in touch with what is.
You want your child to be able to recognize and express gratitude because it deepens their sense of connection and joy.
To reconnect children (and yourself) with gratitude, an easy place to start is appreciation. Since kids are great at enjoying things in the moment, watch for when they enjoy what they have in their hands right now and are glad to have it. When you recognize that as the key to gratitude, you can point it out.
Depending on what you see, your conversation could go something like this:
SAY WHAT YOU SEE: "I’ve seen you take care of your favorite things, play with them over and over, and really enjoy them, like the one you are playing with right now.”
STRENGTH: “That tells me you appreciate them and are grateful to have them. I bet there are other things in this house, in our family, and in your life that you enjoy, appreciate, and are grateful for. Probably even people, too.”
Then listen to what your child says. That little exercise may put your mind at ease about your child. If you do the same for yourself, it can put you in touch with your own deeper joy. Like all our STRENGTHs, gratitude is always there, even if it is hard to recognize.
Thank you for your suggestion. I did a combo of your method (pointing out her natural gratitude) and modeling my own gratitude, which was suggested by another parent coach.
Modeling gratitude was much easier than I thought. Whether it was my honest delight in a sunny day in a stretch of gloomy days or a treat from a new bakery, I made sure to remark aloud how happy it made me and how lucky and grateful I felt for these small but important gifts in my life.
My daughter listens close to (almost) everything I say. I believe these positive affirmations landed all around her and created a soft and safe space to share the things she too was noticing around her and truly feeling grateful for. A moment to look, share, reflect and rejoice—our days are filled with them, you just have to pause and point them out.
The most unexpected sweetness was how fuller my own cup felt as I shared my gratitude. It made me realize how much GOOD stuff flew all around me all day. Before this awareness, I was choosing to bat it away and stomp around, mucking about in the stress of the day, the tasks I was dreading, and all the boring adult day-to-day details.
By simply tackling a parenting problem I was unhappy with in a new way, I saw parts of my world that were blooming that I wasn't even aware of. How cool is that?