Susan C. Stone's Practical Parenting Blog dotcom

Pumpkin Pie, Football and Giving Thanks!

Posted on: November 9, 2011

Turkey, pumpkin pie, STUFFING (personal favorite) , family, football…all the trappings of a great Thanksgiving. But, are they? While Thanksgiving may be the least commercialized of our national holidays, the essential meaning can get lost amidst a sumptuous meal and an exciting 4th quarter. How many of us actually give thanks on this day – or any other day, for that matter? What happened to gratitude and what are we teaching our kids about it?

Now you may say you’re teaching your children to say “thank you” for favors and presents.  But, are you teaching them – and do you realize – the more subtle and bigger concept of gratitude ? This is the recognition and appreciation of all  that you have. Too often we and our children take this  for granted.  Children are understandably blase about their life style because it”s the only reality they know. But gratitude is important because it’s  inextricably linked to happiness.  If you’re not appreciative and grateful and, therefore, not teaching your kids to be so, you are not promoting happiness in them in the deepest sense. Without this perspective,  all they experience is a kind of “happiness” in the most shallow and momentary way. (“Oh boy, a new toy!”)

So, how do you both feel and teach gratitude when you live, as we do,  in a solution-oriented society which is focused on what is wrong and needs to be changed?

Begin with yourself – experiencing gratitude has to be an active mental discipline. Pick a time each day when you focus on the most basic blessings in your life – health, family, living quarters, food, faith, etc. You can add to that list according to your priorities – it might be friends, a job you love ( or these days, any job!), the ability to go to a ballgame or movie, to enjoy a starry night and so on. If you find yourself having trouble with this, try beginning your day by watching the news – you’ll quickly see how much you take for granted.

Then, how do you pass this key to happiness on to your children? First, you can model gratitude by articulating out loud those positive things you’ve identified in your own life. Simple statements such as “Boy, I reallly feel healthy today!” or “I feel so fortunate to have a wonderful child like you!” or “Would  you like eggs or cereal for breakfast – we ar so fortunate to have plenty of food and choices about what to eat”. This may elicit some questions from  your child such as “Why? Do other people not havve so much food?”.  This is a great teaching opportunity to let them know that, indeed, many people don’t have eoungh to eat and that their own situation is a reason for them to be grateful.

Second, ask your child what they’re grateful for. This is a great bedtime question, when they are more vulnerable and likely to open up. Be prepared however, they may still answer “My new action figure!”. At that point you can ask them if they’d rather have that than a nice mom and dad. If they still prefer GI Joe to you, tell them that you think they’ll change their mind some day (and hope that’s so!).Third, there are the inevitable, and very important, food and toy drives around the holidays. Make sure you and your child participate in donating. Some older children even like to donate a bit of their allowance to provide Thanksgiving dinner to those without. As children are 8 and older, it becomes important that they see to whom they are actually giving their donations so they become aware of others’ reality.

Last, establish a family tradition of each person saying what they are grateful for. You can do this on Thanksgiving – that’s a natural. However, remember that, unlike mittens or swimsuits, gratitude is not a seasonal item!   Ideally, it should be a way of thinking all year round. You can repeat the ritual of saying what each person is grateful for over Sunday morning pancakes, Friday night dinners, bedtime or any time you think your child will be receptive. It’s the repetition of the focus on gratitude that eventually makes it a part of your child’s thinking and creates real  happiness.


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