Well folks, it’s that time of year again! The leaves are changing colors, the wind is beginning to blow with a crisp, cool bite, and Ugg Boots are starting to creep out of hibernation and onto the feet of teenage girls everywhere. It’s a little different here in Texas, though – we’re wearing shorts and t-shirts, and some of us are still taking dips in the swimming pool. But, the tell-tale sign that the holidays are upon us is when Starbucks releases their infamous red holiday cups, which WOOHOO – they’re back!
I don’t know about y’all, but this is my FAVORITE time of year. Family gatherings, lots of laughter, crackling bonfires, pumpkin spice everything, home-cooked meals and kitchens that smell like cinnamon. It’s the season of giving, a time of year where we give thanks for what we have and focus on the wants and needs of others . . . to be selfless, generous and loving to all. Sure, we SHOULD be thankful and selfless year-round, but the majority of us settle into mundane routines and unknowingly (and unintentionally) take what we have for granted. There’s just something about the holidays that really grounds me and inspires me to acknowledge my blessings and “pay it forward” to those around me.
With that being said, I’m bound and determined to ensure my kids don’t grow up to become selfish and unappreciative adults. I want them to understand the importance of “loving thy neighbor”. To be genuinely grateful for the things they have, for the people they love and for those that love them. I want them to be empathetic, respectful, warm and caring toward others.
But how do you get through to the youth of today? Growing up now is a LOT different than it was when I was a kid (which, ahem, wasn’t all THAT long ago . . . ) I’ll save my rants about today’s generation for another post, since “ain’t nobody got time for that!” But in short, there’s been an influx of lazy parenting. Moms and dads these days tend to focus on being a child’s best friend instead of being a parent, which results in a lot more bratty and entitled children. Respect and gratitude start in the home, y’all!
So, in lieu of the holiday season, I’d like to share a few ways that have helped our girls develop an attitude of gratitude. I’m no “child whisperer”, nor am I a perfect parent, but these tips have saved me from potential embarrassment and stress (i.e. I no longer cringe during birthday or holiday celebrations when it comes to how my kids will react when they open gifts). Of course they’re still learning and, like all kids, have occasional meltdowns and temper tantrums, but I absolutely beam with pride when I see my “lessons” rubbing off on them!
1. Set an Example
Monkey see, monkey do, little eyes are watching you! Keep in mind that you’re a role model. A hero. Heck, you’re Super Mom! If you want a grateful and compassionate child, you have to LIVE it. Practice what you preach! For starters, don’t speak ill of others, show respect to those around you (including your kiddos) and smile often.
2. Manners – Teach them Young
It’s never too early to teach a child “please” and “thank you”. When Jordyn and Averie were (little) babies, I taught them basic sign language, including how to sign these two simple phrases. Even when they were too young to verbalize the words, they were absolutely capable of signing them. Plus, it’s the cutest darn thing! Averie is 18 months old now and will point to her cup of milk and say, “Elk peesh!” (“milk please”) while signing “please”. And hearing Jordyn say, “may I please…”, “no thank you”, “yes/no ma’am”, etc. will never get old!
3. Don’t Spoil them “Just Because”
My husband would say this is one of the toughest challenges for me . . . I suppose he’s right. (For the record, that doesn’t happen too often! *wink, wink, elbow-jab*) As a parent, I want my kids to be happy; I want to give them everything I can – every experience, every sought-after toy or game. Admittedly, I sometimes find myself fighting the impulse to buy something that reminds me of them. But I was taught the value of a dollar at a young age, and I’ve always worked hard for the things I want. So if my daughters want something, you better believe they’re going to work for it! I’m not talking about violating child labor laws or anything like that, but BOTH my 4-year old and 18-month old are capable of and expected to consistently complete age-appropriate chores, behave well in school/at home, follow directions, etc.. I have no problem rewarding my girls for good behavior and fulfilling their responsibilities. It’s a valuable lesson of “cause and effect” – do your job, enjoy the fruits of your labor. What fun is, “all work, and no play,” anyway??
4. Say “Thank You”
Say it often. Maybe it’s my southern upbringing (or maybe it’s from 10+ years working in customer service), but those two simple words make a big impact. Have you ever given a gift to someone, only for them to not say, “Thanks”? Held a door open for someone that never even acknowledged you were there? Don’t let your kid grow up to be like one of those people. Teach your kiddos to give thanks. Teach them gratitude! It goes beyond “good manners” – having an attitude of gratitude is learned . . . it’s a mindset. A lifestyle. One of my favorite ways to teach my girls about giving thanks is by keeping a stack of “Thank You” cards handy. Before Jordyn even knew how to write, I’d have her draw or color pictures that I would put inside the cards with a quick “Jordyn says thanks!” message written on the inside. Averie does this now, too, and they both love sending snail mail!
5. Make Giving a Habit
I have no doubt that my family is blessed. There will be good days and bad days, but at the end of every day, we have a loving home waiting for us, a warm bed to sleep in, hot meals to fill our bellies, books to read, toys to play with, clothes to wear, etc… We live a modest yet comfortable life, but I know not everyone is so lucky. Which is why I’m teaching my daughters the benefit of giving. Every so often, we “purge” toys (in good condition) that are no longer played with and clothes that don’t fit anymore and donate them to a local charity. Not gonna lie, it’s usually a struggle in the beginning to get Jordyn on board with packing up HER unused clothes and toys, but after explaining the conditions in which some kids live, she tears up and starts stuffing pretty much everything she owns into a bag to give away. (Even though this girl is, for the most part, a smart-mouthed sassy pants, she sure has a ginormous heart!) It gets easier each time we do this, and it helps them appreciate WHAT they have and how giving helps others.
6. Count your Blessings
Every night before bed, Jordyn and I discuss the highlights of our day, talk about our feelings and end with the question, “What are you thankful for today?” Not only does this set a precedent for years to come and encourages open communication between us, it helps her understand that there is GOOD in every day. Whether she’s thankful for a favorite toy, a postcard she got in the mail or how much fun she had playing a game with her friends in school, when she acknowledges the good in her life, I can see a significant (positive) shift in her attitude.
Most of all, be patient with your kids. Gratitude is learned, and it takes a lot of practice, repetition and (gentle) coaching. Your child may develop his/her own way of expressing gratitude, and that’s ok – cut them some slack! Different kids communicate in different ways (i.e. hugging, giving verbal thanks, drawing a picture, etc.). Take notice, give praise and encourage them!
There’s a lot you can do to help your kids develop a grateful heart, no matter how young or old they may be. Please share an approach or tactic you use to help instill an attitude of gratitude in your child!