Friday, May 9, 2008

Instilling Gratefulness

How do you teach your child to be grateful? I'm not really sure how I learned. I think at first it was a guilty conscious actively working in my head. Then as a grew older and really began to see obvious differences in life situations I became more aware of my blessings. Later still, when tragedy hit me in various ways I began to see even more clearly that being grateful is an essential part to moving forward. Now as a parent, I am again at a learning point, this time in teaching lessons that plant the seed of gratefulness.
How does one do this? I don't know. I have learned in my short parenting tenure, that being grateful is a learned behavior. It is not automatic and it is not an easy lesson to learn. I am not sure I can explain gratefulness to my children. One must have a certain amount of empathy I think before the feelings of gratitude arise. How do you teach a child empathy? You can teach them please and thank you. You can talk to them about helping others. You can have them with you when you go to church, when you pray, when you visit the needy, or take a casserole, or assist a loved one. But can you really teach them to be grateful? I think having them with you while you do things you do out of gratitude is how they learn. You cannot instill gratitude by saying, "you ungrateful little wretch" or "how can you act like that after all I've done for you?" I have stopped myself on many occasions from saying those words. They aren't helpful and they aren't instructive. First of all, your child hasn't got a clue what you're talking about. Secondly, that's not teaching gratitude that's teaching conditional love.
I had a wise teacher from high school who gave me some excellent advice once. I had not seen him in 10 years or so. We were at a reception for one of my friends and I introduced him to my husband and first son. Before we left he said, "make sure you give him plenty of standing time." I was puzzled and I didn't know what my former teacher was talking about at first. And then he elaborated, "you know make sure he (my son) sees you doing the right things." It is probably the single most important comment he personally ever said to me, and even though I was no longer his student, I took it heart and think about it often.
So how do you teach gratefulness? Give them plenty of standing time. Let your children see you doing things with a grateful heart for a grateful purpose and tell them why you are doing it. I promise in time you won't be disappointed. I may be 50 years old before I ever see the fruits of my labor, but I know some day I will see them.

1 comment:

JP said...

Your blog is prettier than mine. You motivated me to finally get off my ass and do it as well.