Sunday, July 24, 2011

Feeling Gratitude. Really, Truly, Deeply.

“I don’t want to teach my kids to say ‘thank you’ to someone just because it’s polite and kind. I want them to say it because they feel gratitude. From a place deep inside. A place they are very aware of.”
~ Annie Burnside

How can I teach a child the enormity of
expressing gratitude for things like
a day spent at the beach?
I read this quote in a great post today by Jim Higley on The Good Men Project. In it, he spoke about wanting to help his children feel really and truly grateful.

I think we all want our children to have gratitude for what we provide for them, for what we do for them, for the things they have. We remind our children a hundred times a day, "say thank you". But do we ever stop to think that there is so much more to giving thanks than just saying the words? 

I've written before about trying to instill a sense of gratitude in my children, but after reading Jim's post I began to wonder if I was focusing merely on my children's sense of entitlement. In reading his list of things he wanted his children to be grateful for, I realized there was so much more and that I was missing a big part of what helps children really feel grateful.

It's very simple and with all my focus on emotional intelligence I can't believe I didn't think about it before: we need to help them connect to how they feel in the moment.

Of course they're happy when Grandpa visits, but
are they grateful? Do they understand
what that means?
In a way, it's fairly easy to do when receiving something like a gift or a home cooked meal. For example, to start the process ask, "how did it make you feel when your friend got you that toy you've been wanting for so long? It must make you feel good that someone knows you so well that they knew exactly what you wanted for your birthday!" Or, if they received something which isn't quite so exciting, one can say "Mom spent a lot of time making that meal for you, how do you feel when she does something like that?" Continue down that road and ask them how saying "thank you" to that person might make them feel and contemplate on how making others feel good in turn makes us feel good, ourselves. Using the word "grateful" often with your children will help connect the feelings and the acts in a more concrete way.

But how to help them understand gratitude in the larger sense? How do I teach them that there are things to be thankful for that have nothing to do with receiving something tangible? How do I help them understand these things in a deep, internal way? 

I realize that there is so much each day that I am grateful for that I don't express out loud to them. Perhaps I don't even take the time to acknowledge it to myself and just let those moments flicker past without fully being aware. If I don't do it, how can I expect my kids to know how to do it? I may point out a beautiful flower to them, but do I express how it makes me feel peaceful, happy and connected to nature when I am in a garden? Do I tell them how the smell of fresh berries reminds me of happy days at my grandmother's house watching her make mulberry jam? Do I connect that happy memory to a feeling of gratitude that I had my grandparents in my life for so many years? No, not consciously. But what if I did? Wouldn't I feel more alive, more happy, more grateful? And wouldn't this trickle down in so many ways to my children?

How can you not be grateful to look out your
window at something as lovely as this?
And what if I were to point out all the marvelous, but ordinary, things that I am so grateful for each day? My son's giggle as he listens to something silly on the radio, my daughter's excited whisper as she describes her latest drawing, the way my husband's foot always touches mine when he sleeps, the explosion of pink and orange bougainvillea in our backyard...why let all of that loveliness just happen without acknowledgement?

I'm going to try this idea and see what happens. I'm going to express my own gratitude for the little things, connect it to the way I feel, share it with my kids and see if they can begin to do it, too. Why not? It can't hurt! What about you? Do you feel like your kids are grateful for what's around them? Do you acknowledge your own gratitude? I'd love to know how you handle gratitude in your family.

Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach
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9 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

janetlansbury said...

Brilliant idea, Gina! I loved what Wendy Mogel said in a talk that I'm grateful :) to have attended... You know how, when we pick children up from school, we have the tendency to ask them about all the things that might worry us -- the downers -- like, was so-in-so nice to you today? Instead, she suggested that parents share something interesting that happened in their adult life. "The flower shop smelled so incedible this morning and the flourist told a joke that made me laugh"... whatever. Children need to know that we are grateful for these things...that our adult life is good. I was very touched by that for some reason. And now I'm reminding myself *again* to do it.

The Twin Coach said...

Thank you for your note, Janet. I love Wendy Mogel, too! I love the idea of sharing something interesting with them...I do try to do that when I pick them up each day, but never thought about it in connection with gratitude. Thank you!

Joel Agee said...

Dear Gina,

Your post on gratitude stirred a lot of thought and feeling in me. I thought of my own childhood. Was I taught gratitude? The first answer was "No," at least not beyond being required to say thank you when I was given something. But then I remembered the ways in which my mother was a wonderful teacher to me, simply by expressing her appreciation, pleasure, and love of many things, especially beauty in nature, art, and music, and also in people -- not just physical beauty, which she made a little too much of, but beauty of behavior, of kindness, of charm. She was also vocal about the outrage of poverty, beggary, and destitution all around us, the smugness of the rich, the contempt with which many people treated their maids. She commented on these things often in ways that I could understand and feel. My stepfather too, in his much more reticent way, expressed appreciation - - of things I did, and of things in the world that surrounded us, and of literature and the life of the mind. All this, in a large general way, was a teaching: that life is good, and that joy is increased when it is shared. Especially my mother taught me the last. But it was never an instruction. She taught by example, and by responding generously to my own responsiveness.

Looking at the pictures of the children with me, and on the beach, I thought: "This is already gratitude. It doesn't need to be taught. Their pleasure is gratitude. Their spontaneous expression of pleasure is an expression of gratitude." But I think you want them to learn not take the good things of their lives for granted. I wonder if that doesn't require some awareness of the possibility of lack, of deprivation, which comes only later in life. I see this in myself. I have always taken my health for granted and enjoyed the use of my body without conscious gratitude. Now, as various friends my age are getting sick, I'm becoming aware of the luxury of still being in good health at 71, and I'm learning to be grateful to my body -- my heart, for instance -- for doing what it does for me. And that shift in thought and feeling brings a sense of caring for the body.

I took the main thrust of your post to be a resolution to give more expression to your own gratitude in the presence of your children, and to teach them that way. I think that is a wonderful idea. That's what reminded me of my mother, because that is what she did all the time, without, I think, ever using the words "gratitude" or "appreciation." By being that way, throughout my early childhood, she taught me more about what it means to be grateful for the gift of life than all the religious and moral teachings I came in contact with later.

As you know, I'm writing a novel about a six-year-old boy. Every day I descend into the region of my own six-year-old self to half-remember, half-imagine what it was like to be a child in that place at that time (Mexico in the late Forties), with parents like mine. In that region I find a wide range of feelings, but central among them is gratitude. The feeling isn't named, but it's present in many passages. I now think it's indistinguishable from feelings of love and happiness, or at least it's very closely associated with them.

I'd better stop or I'll go on and on. I just want to say that I think it's great that you write so thoughtfully and lovingly about questions like this one, and that you share your thoughts with other parents. I'm proud of you, as always.

Your Dad.

Edward said...

Great post TC! I try to teach my boys the virtues of gratitude every chance I get.... I may have to borrow from this post soon.. just warning you. Als love the new look.... very nice, clean and easy to navigate... Sets you apart from all the other "mommy bloggers" w/ all the badges/buttons and ads...
Keep up the good work.

Katie Hurley, LCSW said...

I do this with my kids and I find that they really take notice...they tend to say similar things. We recently had a pretend Thanksgiving (Riley's idea) with pretend decorations and turkey place mats...the works! When we went around saying what we were thankful for, they both said family and named some friends...and then sunny days...and of course some toys! It was great!

katepickle said...

I wrote a post just the other day about whether or not you should make your kids say please and thank you and it touched on some of these issues. I don't force my kids to parrot a thank you because I'm trying (not always succeeding) to encourage them to understand and really mean it when they say it. It's not easy but I really like your idea.... thanks for sharing

Aunt Annie said...

I think one of the best ways we can internalise gratitude in our children is to stop saying 'yes' to everything. That sounds a bit draconian, but I don't mean it like that! Many young mums- and I was no exception- are so carried away by the delight of their baby that they want to say yes to everything the child wants, to suck up the reflected joy from their child. I was no exception!

But when my financial circumstances changed and I had to start saying no, I saw an amazing change in my child's attitude to what he was given- suddenly he started to express gratitude without prompting. Introducing the possibility of 'no' gives our 'yes' a whole new dimension. In the same way, breaking his wrist made him see a new dimension of thankfulness for health and wholeness.

I think it's so important that, as well as acknowledging and sharing the good things- which I think is a wonderful insight!!- we don't shy away from the bad stuff; talk about it, what it means, why it happens. Light and shade!

The Twin Coach said...

Annie, I love your point. Thank you! And I do totally agree...without having the dark you can never truly appreciate the light. Wonderful insight. Have a great Thanksgiving!

Leslie said...

I love this!! This is what I've been looking for - insight just like this. I have known and understood that gratitude is important, but have trouble actually helping my kids feel and express it authentically. Each night before we bed we all say what we're thankful for. I like this little habit, and one of my boys especially enjoys this. But my oldest tends to be negative and has trouble finding something to be grateful for. I think practice like this might really help. Thank you - this is the best Thanksgiving post!

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