If there’s one word to describe this generation of young people, it would be “entitled”. Our children have been handed everything they could ever desire, video games, toys, cell phones, cars, entertainment. Many children find themselves bored in the instant their phone dies with no idea of the vast world around them.
As we recently started our school year, I decided to have my children start journaling. Every Thursday, they are to list 10 things they are thankful for. They say this has been one of the hardest assignments they have ever done. In fact, they have tried to skip it every week since we began. Last week I asked them why this was so hard and was told they just don’t know what to write. They complained that writing 10 different things each week was too much to come up with.
I thought back to being young and not understanding why I should be thankful for all the things that I had. I was an adult before I realized how little so many in the world have and how blessed I was to live in this country, to have the ability to work, to eat 3 meals a day, to have air conditioning on a hot Texas summer day. My children aren’t there yet. They don’t get it. So how do we teach them these things while they live better than the majority of the world?
I decided to talk to my children and listen to their perspectives. Then I began explaining how other cultures live and the primitive lives some lead throughout our world. I am still not sure they completely understood, but I tried, right? Then we went back to our day, our life of ease that we have built for ourselves.
Have any of us ever experienced the hardships that cause us to be grateful for every little thing we have? I know I have not. So how do I create a spirit of thankfulness within my children so they can truly know what it means to have real gratitude for the life they live?
To learn what gratitude looks like, we need to teach our children to take notice of the things they have. Ask them what they have been given or what they already have in their life they could or should be grateful for. Is there more behind the material things, such as the thought or time someone put into choosing the thing they enjoy so much.
Another way to teach children the concept or gratitude is to help them think about the things they receive, how these items make them feel and the thought that was put into choosing a gift. Why did someone give it to them? Do they feel like they owe the giver something in return? Or did they earn the gift? Did the giver have to give them something? They may understand gratitude if their answer is no to these questions. What does it feel like to receive something? Does it make them happy? If so, what about it makes them happy? Talking to your children about how they feel about the things they have been given can connect these positive feelings to the gifts and the thought behind the things they have been given.
As we begin to focus our gratitude on things given to us it can open a door to teach our children how to be thankful for the things we are accustom to having, like our homes and our abilities. As we teach them that all of life is something to be grateful for, we begin asking them what they want to do about their gratitude. Is there some way they want to show how they feel about what they have received? As parents, we may need to prompt our children to act on their gratitude. Whether it is joining in on a pay it forward movement, or sending a thank you card, we begin teaching them to use their thankfulness to connect their actions to serving others.
Asking these types of questions and motivating action in their gratitude can help our children find depth in receiving gifts and take notice of all they already have. This may instill in them a desire to serve others in order to share their feelings of gratitude.
These are great questions to help any of us recognize everything we have been given. This can allow our gratitude to motivate us to respond in positive ways to the world around us. It shows our desire to take our thankfulness and share it with others while we teach our children they can do the same thing and begin to change our world. Not to mention the happiness when your child responds with an unprompted thank you and you know they truly mean it.