Wouldn't it be nice if your kids realized how lucky they are? How amazing their life is? What if they began to express their appreciation for everything you do? How would you like them to thank you for the delicious dinner you made for them?
Sound like a pipe dream? It doesn't have to be.
You can create the opportunity for your children to learn the practice of gratitude. Aside from instilling the requisite please and thank you into your children, you can take things even further. The benefits of being grateful include increased happiness, reduced anxiety and being better equipped to handle life's curveballs. If they learn this one skill, they will have a great foundation for confronting any obstacle that they encounter along the way.
My kids have no clue how good they have it. I mean, I grew up in an era without cell phones, GPS or Google. I remember waiting all week for my Saturday morning cartoons! I want them to fully understand how fortunate they are and I want them to begin being grateful now so that it becomes a part of their regular routine when they are older.
I started by asking my kids at the dinner table what went well in school. Although they resisted, eventually, I got one or two things out of them but it was a lot like pulling teeth. Then I attempted to get them to lift each other up by expressing their gratitude, but it wasn't the smoothest experience.
Me: So, why are you grateful for your brother?
My Son: I'm not.
Oh boy, this is going to take some work. Finally after a little push, he admitted that he really liked when his brother played games with him. I realized that I was going to have to come up with more interesting ways to introduce the practice of gratitude.
So, here are 5 different ways that you can get your kids to be more aware of the awesome things in their life.
1. Verbalize Your Gratitude
If you make an effort to announce your appreciation, it will catch on. Thank your husband for taking out the trash, thank your kids for cleaning up, thank each member of your family individually for something very specific that they are doing and you will see them light up. This sets a wonderful example of how to verbalize your gratitude and it is contagious. Before you know it, they just might thank you for helping them with their homework or for washing their favorite shirt. Wouldn't that be amazing?!
2. The Gratitude Game
Make an actual game of being thankful. You don't have to have a board or playing pieces but you do have to keep score. At the dinner table (or during some other uninterrupted time together) have each person announce what they are grateful for that day. Count each item and choose the winner based on who has the most things on their list. The prize can be choosing the book that you will read together, picking the dessert, having an extra 30 minutes of quality time together or some other reward that you deem appropriate.
3. Happy Questions
This works well especially if you have little kids who may not understand the concept of gratitude but you want to introduce them to the idea of counting their blessings. Ask them questions relating to their happiness. "What made you happy today?" "Which friend made you smile? Why?" "What was your favorite activity at school today?" "What was the coolest thing you learned today?" The idea is that they will start to notice all the great things they experience daily.
For the older kids and even those as young as five who like to draw, you can introduce a happy book. This is a beginners journal where they can recount all the good things in their life. For the little ones, they can draw pictures of their favorite things. Kids can write about their experiences as a story and illustrate it or just make bullet points listing the fun they had that day. This is a great way for them to begin taking note of positive things and will, in turn, make it their focus in order to have something to report in their journal.
5. Body Thanks
If you find your children are resistant to verbalizing gratitude, journaling or if they don't know where to start, this is an effective exercise. Have them thank their body for everything it does each day. To make it specific and different, begin by naming a body part and ask them how it contributed to their life. For example, ask them: "What did your eyes show you today?" Then have them thank their eyes for allowing them to see whatever they answered. You can continue with as many body parts as you want, depending on your child's attention span. A few other examples are: "What did you hear today?" "What did your legs do today?" "What did you pick up with your hands today?" This exercise helps them understand how amazing their mere existence is when they start acknowledging everything they are able to do every day.
Recognizing the importance of gratitude will not happen overnight. They may never actually appreciate all you do for them as a mother but hopefully with time and practice they will begin to focus on the positive aspects of their day. This simple act of being grateful on a daily basis creates opportunities, reduces stress and increases feelings of fulfillment.
All I want for my kids is for them to be happy. Of course, feeling appreciated would be nice too, but it probably won't happen until they make me a grandma. A long, long, long time from now. Until then, I am grateful that I can shine a light on how wonderful life can be.
Patricia is the creator of the epic summer event Camp Mom, helping Moms ignite their inner spark through fun and learning.