Saying Thanks

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The Article

Thanksgiving should be a lovely holiday: we get together with loved ones, we eat a delicious meal, and we talk about our blessings. But let’s be honest: most children would be far more thankful if they were given hot dogs, french fries and ice cream, and allowed to eat in front of the TV. So rather than being a chance to count our blessings, for many of us this past weekend was a time to wallow in exasperation at our ungrateful offspring!

Ironically, the sad fact is that our children have little reason to be thankful. It’s not that they don’t have great blessings; it’s instead the exact opposite. They don’t have great hardships, and when we don’t have these down times, it’s hard to appreciate the up times. Yet gratitude is an essential character trait. Lawrence E. Shapiro, in How To Raise a Child with a High EQ, argues that these character issues are as important as intelligence—if not even more important—in the future success of our children.

The way we raise kids, though, squeezes out these character lessons. From the time children are born, everything in our lives revolves around them. We care for them and nurture them. When we send them to school, they hear about how important their feelings are. When they get home from school, we drive them to lessons, or take them over to friends’ houses, so they can have fun. All of this, in itself, is a blessing. We really wouldn’t want it any other way. Yet when all kids do is have fun, they can fail to see that life could somehow be different. And the problem goes even deeper. If children’s happiness is always our primary concern, then kids start to feel that their feelings are all-important, and that they deserve to have what they want.

Part of the answer to this dilemma can be found by closing your wallet. This generation of kids has more toys, games, music, and stuff than any other generation before them. It’s not just the quantity that’s new, though: it’s the fact that they didn’t have to work for it. A century ago, kids were needed to work on the farm. Today, few kids even do chores. Part of making kids grateful, I think, is helping them to realize that money is scarce. The best way to teach them this is to make them responsible for their own money. Give kids chores, and pay them well for the work (say, $1 per year of age if you can afford it). Here’s the catch: they now have to buy all their own snack food, toys (besides birthday and Christmas gifts), and other things themselves. You’ll probably even save money! And when children start realizing both the value of money and the value of work, they’re far less inclined to nag you for the latest toy! 

How we handle new toys can also teach gratitude. Instead of letting old toys stockpile, let’s encourage kids to give away one or two toys for each new toy. Find a family with young kids who could use a break, or take a trip to the nearest Salvation Army. Operation Christmas Child is also a great way to teach generosity. Every November, they collect shoeboxes full of toys to give to Third World children who would otherwise go empty handed. We save Happy Meal toys, packages of crayons, and stuffed animals all year for these boxes. Start filling your boxes now, and then check out for information on where to drop them off near you.

Finally, don’t forget to encourage gratitude even in daily interactions. When siblings are fighting, make them stop. Then, before you address the root of the current conflict, ask them to say one thing about each other that they are grateful for. Come to think of it, if you’re fighting with your spouse, maybe you should try it, too! When we remind ourselves why we love each other, working out a solution is easier.

Gratitude doesn’t come naturally, but with some forethought and effort we can open our children’s eyes to the blessings we do have. And as they start to see the world differently, and act more gratefully, they give us parents another reason to be thankful.

Latest posts by S. Wray Gregoire (see all)

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