Many parents today are worried about their children being self-centered and growing up with a sense of entitlement… with good reason. Researchers at the University of San Diego report a 30% increase in “narcissism” in incoming college freshmen. We live in a child-centered culture and we need to take steps to counteract the culture of privilege that some children experience.
At Thanksgiving time many families take time to recognize what they’re grateful for but how can we build a value of gratefulness year-round?
Here are seven tips to get you started building an attitude of gratitude in your kids.
Use a Special Plate at dinner time. This idea comes from a mom who submitted a great idea to Family Fun magazine. She developed the following ritual: Every night at dinnertime one person eats off a “special plate” that looks different than the other plates. Every member of the family takes a turn thanking the person using the “special plate” for something that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. So, for instance you could say to your child, “Thank you for getting your homework done and I didn’t even have to ask you to get started.” Your child might say to their sibling, “Thanks for playing Legos with me today. “ Or, you could say to your spouse or partner, “Thanks for grocery shopping today. You know how I hate that chore.”
Then, the next night another family member eats from the special plate and family members thank that person for something they’ve done. The plate rotates each night to another person in the family. Starting the meal with these positive affirmations of gratefulness is a wonderful way to acknowledge family members each day. You can carry on this ritual for years if you wish.
Try the “3 Good Things Exercise” Alan Graham, a psychologist who’s worked with children for 30 years, shared this idea with me. It’s called the “3 Good Things Exercise.” At bedtime ask your child to name three good things that happened. As the parent, write down your child’s responses in a notebook set aside for this reason. Then ask the child, “Why did this good thing happen?” Examining the reason behind the good thing can encourage children to see how they contribute to their own happiness by choices they make. This exercise also builds resiliency in children.
Volunteer to help others. Nothing builds appreciation more than real-life experience. Look for volunteer opportunities for your family so your children can meet and help people who are less fortunate. There are a plethora of opportunities such as volunteering at a senior center playing games with seniors, donating clothes and toys to those in need, adopting a military family to support throughout the year, supporting a child in another country through groups like “Compassion International,” writing to soldiers, making a meal for someone who is grieving… Be creative. You can certainly help people within your social circle who need a helping hand as well as children throughout the world.
Make gratefulness a habit. Every night at dinner, ask, “What are you grateful for today?” Have everyone in the family offer an idea or two. If you wish to make it more formal you can have your child write down 10 things that they’re grateful for each day. This exercise has been shown to improve overall happiness, too.
Write thank you notes. This may be a dying art, but make sure that your child writes a note on stationary, through a text or email to relatives who give them gifts. Taking the time to thank someone in this manner acknowledges the effort that someone made on their behalf and recognizes that giving is a two-way street.
The kindness ritual. This idea comes from Michele Borba who’s featured in my book, 20 Great Ways to Raise Great Kids. Michele had a friend who told her children every day as they left the house, “Do, or say, two kind things to others today and we’ll talk about it at dinner tonight.” This mom placed a high value on raising kind kids and took the time each day to tell them one simple sentence to reinforce that message. She raised two of the kindest kids because of her commitment to giving first.
Donate part of their allowance regularly. You can set aside a certain percentage of your child’s allowance for him/her to donate to charity. You can put the money in a see-through piggy back and count up the savings quarterly. Your child can them research what organization to donate the money to and make the contribution with your assistance.
There’s plenty of research from the field of Positive Psychology that demonstrates that instilling an attitude of gratitude in your child will have life-long benefits.
People who regularly incorporate gratefulness practices in their life also report a higher level of life satisfaction or happiness. Furthermore, people in a positive emotional state demonstrate more flexibility and creativity in their thinking strategies. And isn’t that what you want for your kids? You want them to be happy and to be good problem-solvers.
By the way, a fun idea for Thanksgiving is to create a gratefulness paper chain.
Gather the supplies — paper cut into link sized strips, markers and glue — and have everyone write down several things that they’re grateful for on the paper chain link before they glue it together in a chain. If many people participate or if it’s done daily for a few weeks before the holiday you’ll have a long chain of things to be grateful for that can decorate your home! You could also consider having guests on Thanksgiving Day contribute to the chain.
Do you have an idea for sharing the gratitude attitude? We’d love to hear it! You can share your ideas on my blog below.
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