By Vicki Little
The holiday season makes it easy for us to count our blessings and share the love with friends and family. How do we include our children in this process though? We hear about gratitude trees, blessed buckets, homeless shelter visits and other attempts to remind kids to feel grateful for all they have. Instilling a true sense of gratitude, though, doesn’t come around just once a year. Teaching kids to be grateful is something that becomes a habit, something you don’t think about doing — because you already do it every day. Here are simple ways you can teach your kids to be grateful all year long.
1. Make a DAILY gratitude jar. It is always a great way to count your blessings on the hard days. Through the year, keep a jar that has all the little — or big — things you are grateful for. Keep some paper at the table and make it a dinnertime routine. It easily doubles as a conversation starter. Then, when a bad day comes along, take those slips out and read as many as you need to until you feel better.
2. You break it, you buy it. Everyone makes mistakes, and it doesn’t seem fair that we have to pay for them. But the fact of life is that there are consequences. If we get into a car accident, our car doesn’t get fixed for free. If your child makes a mistake, don’t save them. If they spill some milk, help them clean it — but they should pitch in as well. If they leave their thermos in the lunchroom and it gets lost, have them pay you back for at least half of what it costs to replace it. If they lose or break a toy — well, that is a bummer. If they want a new one, maybe they should pay for it themselves.
3. Change their “charity.” Starting at a young age, it is beneficial for children to learn about saving, spending, and sharing. Sometimes parents find themselves skipping the “share or give” part of that formula and let their children spend the extra bit since kids don’t always fully understand where their money goes when they put it towards charity. So have them put that portion towards something they do fully understand. When they come home asking you to buy their latest fundraiser at school — have them buy it themselves with their share of money. When their friend has a birthday, have them pitch in half of the cost of the gift with their earned money. Same goes for the holidays. Ask them to contribute to their teacher gifts, or purchase items to donate to Toys For Tots or another similar charity.
4. Give back as a family. At least once a year, try to volunteer or give back as a family. Help the local church by gathering food for needy families, volunteer at your local animal shelter, visit a retirement home and spend time with the residents, or find another local volunteer opportunity that your whole family can participate in together.
5. Do gifts differently. Instead of having all three kids get one another presents, draw names. Maybe everyone only gets one instead of two presents but they will be more meaningful. Or if someone has a special skill like sewing or knitting, spend a bit of time on Pinterest and find some great gift ideas that can be homemade. Another idea is to have a book exchange at a birthday party rather than goodie bags for all the kids to bring home (their parents will thank you!). Get creative. Instead of duplicate items and too many toys, give experiences like ski lessons or a membership to the rec center. Gift giving is supposed to be about the caring thought — not about how much you can spend.
6. Show the opportunity cost. The Oxford dictionary definition of opportunity cost is “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.” When you are grocery shopping and your child makes a second request for something, instead of giving in, you could say “You can get your favorite cereal or the waffles but not both — which do you want?” After school they can either play at the park or have some iPad time before homework, but not both. There are so many little choices like this throughout the day that offer opportunities to learn that life isn’t about having your cake and eating it, too. You have to make choices.
7. Find the positive. My son tends to come home after school and tell me all the bad things that happened that day — even if they didn’t happen to him! After the first couple of days, I realized that even listening to him was making me grouchy about all the cruddy things that can happen in the course of one school day. Now when he gets home, I keep it positive. When he says that the cafeteria only had cheese pizza left, I ask if anyone did something silly to make him smile at lunch. When he says he skinned his knee on the playground, I ask him to tell me more about how he scored the winning goal in gym class. If you can’t find anything good from that day, then encourage your child to look forward to tomorrow. It is a new day, with new possibilities.
8. Lead through example. Work on numbers 1-7 yourself! Our children look up to us, they admire us, and want to be like us. And they see and remember everything we do. So the best way you can teach your kids to be grateful is to be full of gratitude yourself.
Have you had success teaching your kids about gratitude? Tell us about it in the comments!
Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two young kids. A Colorado native, she is the Publisher and Editor of Macaroni Kid Aurora and Downtown Denver. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering, reading, camping, or enjoying a bottle of wine with friends.
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