BY NANCY SCHRINER
Attitudes of thankfulness and sharing with those less fortunate have their roots in childhood—and those attitudes can easily be taught. Consequently, children grow up to appreciate the goodness in their lives and experience a fair amount of contentment with their own lives that results in the desire to ‘give back’ to others. A side effect is that the attitude contributes to more peace in the family.
Attitude of gratitude. Ever heard that phrase? It’s almost as old as dirt! No, really it is! According to ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, gratitude is cited as being an indispensable human virtue.
Gratitude is an easy concept to teach to children or to learn for yourself. Once the attitude of gratitude is ingrained, both you and your children will experience more contentment within your own lives and a desire to ‘give back’ to others. A side effect is more peace in the family. Psychologist Dr. Elena Dobbs of Warner Robins says, “By learning to be grateful for what we have, we also learn to focus on the positive around us and this allows us, as we get older, to see the world from a more positive perspective, she continues, “This is why people who practice gratefulness on a regular basis are more prone to be happy and optimistic, less prone to be stressed, anxious, and/or depressed as many psychological studies have reported in the last decade.”
The media today is constantly suggesting that we journal what we’re grateful for. However, John Fitzgerald Kennedy once said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” Nonetheless, writing or saying what we’re thankful for can serve to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, so that actions reflecting that attitude can become second nature. Here are some ways that will help both parents and children develop this attitude:
Making a thankful tree
Search online and you will find many ideas for this Thanksgiving project, but basically each thankful tree idea uses bare tree branches stuck in a flower pot or in a vase. “Trees” can also be elaborate life-size ones on a family room wall (held up with painter’s tape) or more simple ones made with construction paper on a poster board. What is always the same is the leaves that are glued, taped, or hung on the tree. On
these leaves have been written things, people, and situations that make one thankful. When completed, the tree is full of leaves representing what the family is thankful for.
Making a photo collage
Browsing through old magazines looking for pictures of things they are thankful for is an activity that is fun and will help create an awareness of thanksgiving for younger children. Incorporate family pictures, too.
Writing thank you notes
Teaching children to write a thank you note to someone for a gift or for doing something nice teaches them to be polite, and will help them to be grateful. “Children who practice gratefulness are better able to look outside their one-dimensional universe and understand that other people do things for them,” says Dr. Dobbs, “Kids who aren’t taught to be grateful may end up feeling entitled.”
Starting a gratitude journal
Oprah Winfrey revived this practice some years ago, but it is a great way to help children recognize the blessings in their lives. “Instilling thankfulness in children helps them to understand and appreciate the talents they possess,” says Jan Beeland, of Macon Arts Alliance, “when you truly appreciate what you possess you value it more and this is especially true for children.”
Writing about what they are thankful for in addition to their private concerns gives children the freedom to express their innermost feelings. As an anonymous writer once said, “Find a way to be thankful for your troubles, and they can become blessings.”
Sharing with the less fortunate
One of the best ways to convince children to be thankful is to show them others who are truly in need. It is not difficult to find local families who need food or warm coats.
“Adopting” a needy child or family during the holiday season is another way to show your child how to help. Gently used clothing and toys can also be a welcome surprise for a child who has very little and a concrete way for your child to get personally involved.
Most financial experts tell us that when teaching children about budgets, they should always be taught to allocate categories for their money. One of the most basic plans include SAVE, SPEND, and SHARE. Encourage your children to dip deeply into their SHARE container at this holiday time. But make sure that you also teach them to share wisely (see our charity guidelines on page 43).
While it is true that being grateful is a matter of the heart, feelings are not enough. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Let us remember that, as much as has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds.” The world will be a better place and our children will be happier if we heed this advice. #