Gratitude is the big buzz word this time of year. With all the focus on Thanksgiving and charity projects for the holidays, the blogosphere is flooded with articles about gratitude and giving back. But what happens once the holiday season is over?
I don’t know about you, but I hope to raise children that know that gratitude is something you have all the time, not just a few times a year. The holidays are a great time to jump start their gratitude journey. Here are 5 ways to cultivate their attitude for gratitude all year long.
1. Scouting & Service Clubs – I’m a big fan of scouting. A huge focus of scouting is on teaching children community responsibility. They participate in many community service projects throughout the year. They also go on outings that show them how businesses run, learn about the electoral process (my daughter’s Girl Scout troop is holding Girl Scout elections next week), and help them take ownership over making their community a better place for everyone.
Scouting challenges them to figure out how they can make an impact on the world. As a kid, it might be easy to think that there is nothing they can do, but scouting really helps them see that anyone can make a difference. It encourages them to become leaders who care. A key to cultivating gratitude is making kids responsible for their world.
It doesn’t have to be scouting, any club whose focus is on community service will create the same feeling of ownership. Key club is one example. Key Club is an organization for high school students sponsored by Kiwanis International that aims to help the children of the world through community service projects.
My kids like doing things for the community. One day last spring I mentioned to the kids that I noticed a lot of litter in our neighborhood and said we should pick it up. They kept reminding of my idea until one day we scoured the neighborhood for trash and picked it up. They actually enjoyed it.
2. Daily Reminders – Every night I pray with my kids as a part of our nightly routine. I start by thanking God for the day (because I believe every day is a gift) and then I thank him for our many blessings. When my son can’t think of what to pray, I suggest he tell God one thing that he’s thankful for. That often spurs him to come up with several things he’s grateful for.
While it comes in the form of prayer in my house, you don’t have to be religious to start these daily talks with your kids about gratitude. You can make it a part of your daily dinner conversation or at bedtime. What’s important is that they get a fresh reminder every day about their many blessings including having a home, food, heat in the winter, and a family that loves them. It’s good for parents to participate too. We all need a reminder sometimes, especially when we’ve had a tough day.
3. Find Out What Drives Them – This time of year is filled with drives – coat drives, food drives and toys drives, so it’s a great time to get kids thinking about making donations and giving back. It takes some of the focus off of receiving gifts and puts it on giving. After all being able to give a gift actually is a gift in and of itself.
But don’t let the motivation to give die with the holidays. Keep it alive all year long. Find out what they really enjoy doing for the community and make a plan to do it regularly whether that’s once a week or once a month.
If they loved collecting non-perishable goods for a food drive, find a local food pantry to make regular donations too. If they loved donating toys to kids in need, find a local children’s charity that you can help throughout the year.
There are so many worthy causes, but we tend to give where our heart is and helping children find out what causes they are passionate about will set them up for a lifetime of giving and volunteering. The holidays are the perfect time of year to explore what fuels their compassion.
4. Talk About Income Differences – Although my kids heard me talk about our family budget a lot, they didn’t often hear me talk about income disparities between families. That is, until the face of hunger came knocking at my door – literally. When a little girl in the neighborhood wasn’t getting enough food at home and was coming to our house for dinner, I knew I had to have a talk with my kids. It really helped them to understand that not everyone has their basic needs met all the time. It was a real eye-opener for them.
I think sometimes we want to protect our kids from feeling bad so we don’t talk about it. But I think it’s important to explain to them how different families have different income levels, especially before the kids discuss their presents with their friends at school after the holidays. You can’t cultivate lifelong gratitude if your kids think everyone has the same access to even basic needs.
We all forget how lucky we are sometimes. It’s normal to get caught up in the details of life and miss the bigger picture. The best way we can grow grateful kids is be grateful parents. The more we remind ourselves of our blessings, the more our kids will learn by watching us. One of the best lessons we can teach our kids is that no matter how much or little we have, there is always something to be grateful for.
Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.