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Parenting: Graciousness — Live It and Be It

When is it time to give thanks?

It is not uncommon to hear our children rattle off their lists of “needs/wants” from the jolly old elf or from other seasonal religions/birthday extravaganzas.

The gift giving is lost in the frenzy and parents scramble to toy stores to clothing shops to please the young. 

The damage? The “more is better” philosophy which filters from the smart phone, television, music devices, makers etc. Most families that come to me in consults are plagued by their "entitled" children/teens.  I smile and nod. What these families state is true and how we continue to contribute to this or not contribute is extremely important.

Let’s begin with the parental effort. 

It is challenging to raise grateful children with the societal screams of money, status, and “improved toys”. Yet it is important. 

According to an article on Parents.com, a 2003 UC Davis study found that people who are grateful have higher levels of happiness and are more optimistic and lower levels of depression and stress.

In a Washington Post article, Jeffrey Froh, an assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University states that grateful children have better relationships with friends and family, higher GPAs, are less materialistic, and have a desire to connect to their community.”  He adds that thankful adults have other effects, such as lower blood pressure.

“No one is born grateful”, says Mary Jane Ryan, author of Attitudes of Gratitude (Conari, 1999) so it becomes important we, as educated parents, teach this and expect this of our children.

Back to us as now concerned parents.  How do we teach this important value?

MODEL, MODEL, MODEL! 

Manners:  Expect and model polite words and thank you notes

Gratitude in daily conversations: “Isn’t this beautiful? “ “ We are so lucky to have this silly dog.”  Say what happened positive every day either at the dinner table or before bed.

Have your children help: Chores are important, emptying the car, picking up clothes, etc.

Practice saying “no” will help you and your child. Your child, even if young, will learn that not everything asked for comes to them. 

Downplay the presents this season. Instead focus on the moments of celebrating, trimming the home, lighting the candles, visiting relatives. Focus on identifying gently that it is not the “cool phone” that makes them feel good, it is the connection with their friends and that being friendly is the “coolness” of the person. 

Create a gratitude family journal (or individual journal) inputing at family meetings one or two things or which every family member is grateful. (One of Froh’s studies found that early adolescents who simply “counted their blessings” in a journal every day for two weeks were more appreciative than those who didn’t as well as more optimistic and more satisfied with their lives.)

Visit homeless shelters and pet shelters.  Encourage compassion.

Join organizations that give to others. One of my family’s favorites is heifer.org.  This is when our family gives money to an organization to help others in other lands.  Of course find an organization that the children have a connection…Greenpeace, Cancer, local charities (LoV Newark), Tri City Homeless Shelter, etc..

Buy a sandwich for a homeless person.

Buy or make a tree to place in your home for the holidays.  Create leaves out of paper or go on a collecting hike.  Write one blessing per person on each leaf every day and place on the tree. 

Here is a simple prayer (meditation) to say this time of year.  May your ‘giving’ be full of ‘thanks’ this season.

‘Everyday, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.’ - Dalai Lama

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