It's not about teaching them to appreciate stuff, but to understand the connection between happiness and love.
Gratitude is expressed through a simple gesture or words. It shows our appreciation and love for others and directs our lives towards blessings. Without gratitude we are unable to acknowledge how richly blessed we are and hence we become abysmally unsatisfied and unhappy. Essentially, gratitude is a form of love. The Roman philosopher Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others … Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart.”
As a mother, the thing I desire most for my children is happiness. However, I pray for the type of happiness that doesn’t come from success or worldly riches. I pray for a happiness that comes from knowing that they are loved and that they are blessed by it. With this desire, comes the task of teaching them how to achieve this happiness, and that is only achieved through gratitude. Here are six simple tips you can start using today to ensure your children a lifetime of happiness as they count their blessings:
1. Never give up reminding your children to say please and thank you
This can be simple and sometimes aggravating. I don’t know how many times a day I remind my little ones, “How do you ask for something? What do you say when you receive something?” It can certainly get tedious. But gratitude is like a muscle. You’ve got to exercise it so it can become stronger. Remind them to say “please” and “thank you” in the not so obvious of scenarios and it will soon become a disposition that they will bring to life each day. It’s not just about being polite, it’s about really appreciating others and who they are. I remind my children to thank their teacher when they leave school or when they’re in ear shot of our mailman or garbage men. If you remind them for the little things, they’ll remember it more so for the bigger things.
2. Help them clean out their toys and have them choose some to give to the needy
At first I was a bit reluctant to move forward with this idea. I was afraid they wouldn’t cooperate; after all we’re talking about two small boys and their toys! Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised. Both my children proceeded with enthusiasm. There were a few discussions about this toy car and that dinosaur but in the end, they freely chose some good toys to give away.
I took this opportunity to explain how blessed they were and how others are not so fortunate. If you want to take it a step further, take them with you to the place where you will donate the toys, if possible. Allowing children to follow a task from beginning to end not only gives them satisfaction but makes it memorable. They may very well ask to do it again.
3. Pray out loud and thank God for your blessings and then ask them to do the same
Be prepared to listen to your little ones rattle off all sorts of things they are thankful for, such as their toy tiger and giraffe and on and on. It requires some patience and perseverance. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful way to teach children to be grateful for all. Praying out loud has a great impact on the whole family. Each member is able to hear that they are a blessing to others. As they grow older they will forget their toy zebra and name each and every family member and friends. Yes, gratitude can also help you develop the virtue of patience.
4. Let them get bored!
I know. This is, by far, the most daunting one. We live in an age where everything is scheduled and timed. Who has time for boredom? Boredom is frowned upon; if you’re bored, you’re not being productive. But children need boredom. They need to experience the frustration of that feeling so they can appreciate the present moment. It is in those moments of absolute boredom that children’s creativity is sparked; their imagination comes alive. What better way to be grateful for the little things in life such as bugs under rocks, tadpoles, sprinklers, mud pies and pretending to be wild animals in a jungle? Boredom leads to the beauty of the now and all the varying degrees of gratitude that it can yield.
5. Delay gratification
We can only be grateful for what we have now. There is no better way to help children discover what they have now then to delay gratification. In today’s age, we have easy access to just about anything. We know it, our children know it, and our culture makes sure we know it. Being appreciative for what we already have keeps the temptation of selfishness and greed at bay. Not allowing our children to always have what they want, when they want, can be the impetus for them to discover how they are already rich in many ways. With a little bit of nudging and a little bit of withholding, this can turn into another life lesson that is as good as gold.
6. Finally, take them to serve the poor or visit the sick
There is a reason why Jesus emphasized these two actions. Having contact with those less fortunate than us brings us into contact with Jesus Himself. When we meet those who have less, we are reminded that we have so much. This is a great way to practically and powerfully show our children gratitude. Whether you volunteer at a soup kitchen, your local food pantry or visit sick children at your hospital, take your children along with you. Do not be deterred in thinking they will be traumatized. Let them see that in their simple gesture of service, they can be a blessing to others. The grateful hearts of those who are poor will in turn give our children grateful hearts. As Fr. Solanus Casey said, “It’s Heaven begun, for the grateful on earth.”