GUEST BLOG POST: Making Gratitude the New Attitude by Andrea Reiser
You’ve heard it time and again—from friends, other parents, your own parents, or parenting experts in the media: this generation is rife with selfish, entitled, impolite, and ungrateful kids. And if you look around, you see plenty of evidence. Too many parents, it seems, have conceded defeat and given their offspring tacit permission to sulk, complain, make demands, and generally behave ungratefully.
But your kids don’t have to become card-carrying members of Generation I (for “Ingratitude”)! It truly is possible to reclaim our capacity to parent and refocus our children’s attention and values. Specifically, we can teach our kids to have a profound sense of gratitude—and with the holidays right around the corner, it’s the perfect season to seize some outstanding teachable moments.
Let’s be clear: we’re not just talking about saying “thank you.” That simply reflects polite manners that should be expected anyway. Gratitude, rather, is a mindset and a lifestyle—a way of thinking that needs to be fostered and ingrained.
Why is gratitude so important? Because it grants perspective (even in kids), improves relationships, and counteracts the “gimmes.” And while cynics may find it corny, expressing what you’re grateful for goes a long way toward achieving happiness.
Most parents instinctively know this, but what you may wonder is how to instill this critical quality in your kids. Well, from firsthand experience with our four sons and from talking to other likeminded parents, we’ve developed some simple tips that can help promote an attitude of gratitude:
Be a grateful parent. As most parents know, how you treat your kids affects their development far more than the rules you set. Tell them you’re grateful to have them….and do it often.
Don’t shower them with too much stuff. This dilutes the “gratitude” impulse. Remember, all things in moderation. Yes, it’s okay to want to give your children the best you can provide; just don’t go overboard.
When your child wants something, make him pitch in. If he receives an allowance (or, for older kids, has a job), ask him to contribute a percentage toward the “big” stuff. This will foster a true understanding of the value of a dollar!
Keep a stack of thank-you cards on hand. Insist that your kids use them often. Don’t contribute to the decline of the thank-you note. Have your kids send them out regularly for gifts, sure—but also to teachers, Little League coaches, and others.
Set a good example. Say “thank you” sincerely and often. “Do as I say, not as I do” is, at best, an ineffective parenting strategy. The values your children espouse as they grow up aren’t those you nag them into learning, but the ones they see you living out.
Link gratitude to your Higher Power. After all, most religious traditions emphasize the practice of gratitude through acknowledging blessings and through serving others.
Don’t just count your blessings—name them. Have a minute of thanks in the morning. Even if you’re not the “praying” type of family, have everyone name one thing they’re grateful for to start the day off on a positive note.
Ask your kids to give back. The old saying, “It’s better to give than to receive” has stuck around for a reason. It really does feel great to help someone else out—plus, service tends to dilute selfishness.
Insist on politeness and respect all around. When your kids treat others with dignity and respect, they’ll be more likely to appreciate the ways in which those folks contribute to and improve their own lives.
Look for teachable moments. Yes, it’s important to talk about values with your children—but be aware that from time to time, situations that illustrate your point perfectly will arise. Use them as the powerful teaching aids that they are.
Find the silver lining. We’re all tempted to see the glass half-empty from time to time…and kids are no exception. When you hear your child griping about something, find a response that looks on the bright side. It’s called an “attitude of gratitude” for a reason—it’s about perspective more than circumstance.
Andrea Reiser and her husband, David, are the grateful parents of four sons and co-authors of the new book Letters From Home: A Wake-up Call for Success & Wealth (Wiley, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-4706379-2-0, $27.95). They are proud to contribute 100 percent of royalties and other income from the publication of the book between three personally meaningful charities: Share Our Strength (www.strength.org), Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (http://www.mskcc.org/), and FORCE (http://www.facingourrisk.org/. For more information, please visit http://www.reisermedia.com/.