Thanksgiving reminds me to take stock of the things in my life for which I am most grateful. Of course I am thankful for my family and friends and that I am in good health; I also am thankful that my dishwasher works, that my husband makes me a cup of coffee each morning as I’m getting ready for work, and that I landed in Boulder with a job that I LOVE to come to each and every day.
Growing up, my mother was relentless in her drive to instill in me a sense of appreciation. Sometimes it was conveyed through threats that I should stop complaining and eat my dinner because “there are people in the world who are starving!” But mostly it was through our household policy you always say thank you – with my mother emphasizing “say it like you mean it!” As a part of my mother’s rules for instilling appreciation, when I received a gift I could not use it, eat it, spend it, play with it, or wear it until I had written a thank you note. I hated this as a child… and now – looking back – I’m thankful. My mother instilled in me an attitude of gratitude that I am trying to pass on to my son, Gus.
Teaching gratitude and appreciation is not as easy as I thought it would be… And, I find that as Gus gets older it is becoming more difficult. In a search for inspiration, I came across an article by Andrea Reiser in the Huffington Post that focuses on tips for instilling true gratitude in kids. Below are some of her tips that resonate with me.
Be a grateful parent and model thankfulness. This tip makes me think about how important it is to tell the people in our lives how much we appreciate them. I try to do this regularly with my colleagues and friends. However, I sometimes forget to do this with Gus. I am trying to make more of an effort to remember to tell Gus something every day that focuses on why I am grateful for having him in my life and to model for him how he can begin to do this with others. For example, earlier this week a friend in his 5th grade class went out of her way to show Gus compassion when he was feeling nervous about going to basketball practice. Her kindness really helped him to muster the courage to go to that first practice – and I think it’s a big reason why he went back again the next day. Gus and I talked about how her words lifted his spirits and I asked him to be sure he said thank you.
Resist the urge to shower your child with too much "stuff." This is hard…and it’s only getting harder! As Gus gets older and is more cognizant of what he has or does not have compared to others it’s difficult to hold the line with not giving in to his requests (insert here a long list of ways in which I make his life “NOT FAIR!”). This is an area in which I feel like I need to grow.
Keep thankyou notes on hand and say thank you sincerely and often. The thank you rules that I hated as a child are now a staple in my house. I keep thank you notes on hand and I insist that Gus write a handwritten note of thanks whenever he receives a gift. I also have him occasionally write notes of thanks “just because.” My hope is that someday Gus will pass on this tradition to his own family.
Find the silver lining. This is a strategy that I use at work all the time and now I am trying to incorporate it into my parenting. I fully admit that this is concept is way easier to talk about with an adult than it is with a pre-teen, often moody, almost 11-year old… That said, if I take the time to find the silver lining, I can normally find a positive spin for even the most difficult situation.I hope that this effort will help Gus become more resilient and focus on the positives.
Taking time to show appreciation grants perspective. Age adds wisdom. Each year I become more and more thankful for the life I live, the people who surround me, and the experiences and people that have helped to shape my life. I encourage you to use this Thanksgiving to say thank you to those who have influenced you. An attitude of gratitude feels good. To Andrea Reiser’s full article, please click here.