At the most basic level, I think this is what most people think about when they consider the idea of “gratitude”. But sometimes I think we use this in a way that doesn’t really capitalize on the best gratitude practice.
For instance, I hear parents say, “Be grateful for what you have!” in a moment of frustration with their child. Or when our kids have a moment that they are sad or disappointed, we tell them they need to “be grateful” – rather than allowing their disappointment to be expressed and discussed. Although I understand why we do this (because I have certainly done this too!), it doesn’t really teach kids the true meaning of gratitude.
With clients and with my own kids, I generally try to engage in a conversation about gratitude fairly frequently. I do this because I believe gratitude is linked to many positive attributes and experiences. For instance, gratitude is connected to kindness, humility, empathy, and joy. And since I want to encourage myself and other parents to make words matter for good to achieve some of those things, talking about the things we are thankful for on a regular basis really matters!
A few ideas for talking about gratitude.
- Read A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park, with your child if possible. Without much prompting, you can have lots of conversations about being grateful for what we have. If you can’t read the whole book, simply look up a few articles that share the hardship of others who have to walk to a water source. Here are a few examples for you.
- Ask your child to name three things they are thankful for. Beyond just listing them, talk with your child about why he/she is thankful for those things. Listen to the response. Don’t try to change it or shift it to something “deeper.” Just listen. Allow them to share whatever matters most to them while you give your undivided attention. If their response is to be grateful for video games, let them be grateful for video games. Lots of people are grateful for video games! The whole idea with this conversation is not to have them “realize” deeper gratitudes, but more just to get them in the practice of being thankful.
A few ideas for modeling gratitude.
- Be intentional about saying out loud (so your kids can hear you), “I am really grateful for__________.” Try to say this 3-5 times a day for a week. At some point, one of your kids may notice you have said that sentence “a lot lately” – which is exactly what we want. At that point, you can decide to have more conversation about what gratitude means to you, or just allow the power of that modeling to sink in without needing to push much more.
- Create a gratitude board. This can be as simple as a little dry erase board or as big as a painted chalkboard wall in the living room. Don’t get overwhelmed by the process of making this “perfect”. Kids love dry erase boards or chalk boards – and frankly, if it just has to be a piece of paper on the wall, start there! The idea with the gratitude board is for members of your family to write each day, or each week, what they are grateful for. You could then talk about those things at dinner or in the car as each person “sneaks” something onto the board. You could also take that one step forward and take a picture of your gratitude board everyday or every week and create a photo book at the end of the year. Then, around the holidays, you could reminisce about your year with your kids and family.
There are many, many ways to acknowledge blessings. Anyone else have things they like to do?