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Thursday
Nov152012

Giving Thanks: Fostering a Consciousness of Gratitude in Children

by Ashley Ess

 

During autumn, the gifts of Earth’s bounty are revealed. Nature provides us with beauty and sustenance, and during this time we pause to give our thanks. As we move toward the darkness of winter which inspires inner reflection, we can focus on the beauty of each moment and realize what we are grateful for. 

More than simply expressing a rote thank you, gratitude is something felt from within, an expression from one’s soul. Naturally it is important to teach our children to say please and thank you, and to be courteous. But the essence of gratitude lies at the core of our being, our compassionate center. It is vitally important to help our children learn to tap into that source within themselves, to recognize it, to engage it, so that “thank you” will have meaning beyond simple words. 

Gratitude goes beyond being thankful for “things.” Thanksgiving tends to be one of the less-commercialized holidays, and for good reason. Unfortunately, many holidays have become so much about spending money on things we don’t need that our children often miss out on the history and important messages behind them. But Thanksgiving has retained its core message, though it sadly often wears off as the holiday season escalates. So how do we foster and extend this attitude of gratitude all year long? 

A feastful of love...

At your Thanksgiving table, place small, decorated cards at each setting with one guest’s name on it, face down. Before eating, have each person say why he/she is grateful for the person whose name is on the card. A twist on this (and especially fun for the kids) is to have each person say what they are grateful for in life, starting with each letter of the alphabet. Go around the table as many times as necessary to finish the entire alphabet. Children also experience the power of gratitude and compassion when they are involved in preparing the Thanksgiving feast and table, especially when there is a guest present who may not have a family to spend the holiday with. We all know that this holiday is not about stuffing ourselves into oblivion. Rather, it is for being grateful for the food on our table, our guests, our friends and family and for everything else in our lives that sustains us. 

Children learn by example...

Very young children, in particular, mirror us and our habits. It’s a good idea to model gratitude for them at every opportunity. Express thank-yous to everyone you encounter, from the grocery bagger to the birthday gift giver to the friend who just did you a small favor. Adding physical touch implants within your child the deep appreciation you are experiencing. Placing your hand on one’s arm or giving a hug after someone has done something for you may seem like simple, small gestures but they punctuate heartfelt gratitude. Be mindful of never demanding that your child say thank you; your example and her growing understanding of appreciation will guide her toward her expressions of gratitude. 

It is better to both give and receive...

Help your children learn how to really receive a gift or favor with wholehearted and graceful gratitude. Many of us find joy when we give someone a gift or help a friend in need. No surprise there, as we are taught from a young age that it is better to give than receive. But have you considered the impact that mindfully and gracefully accepting a gift could have on your child’s sense of herself in relation to others? When fostering gratitude in your child she will see the beauty in a simple gesture of gift-giving by realizing, “This person has done something nice in order to make me happy.” Gratitude exudes warmth from the soul, imbues compassion and creates inner happiness. It feeds the soul, which in turn nourishes the gift giver as well!

Giving thanks, naturally...

Nature is all we’ve got. When it comes down to it, we simply wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the processes of nature. Sadly, in today’s high industrial and digital society, we take this fact for granted. We need to revere nature and appreciate its life-giving and sustaining forces. This can be merely spending time with your children in nature, allowing them to dig their toes in the earth and marvel at the height of a redwood, watching the sun’s rays glow between the branches. Teach them how indispensable nature is. Show them how to be grateful for the rain, the sun, the animals, the flowers. Explain to them that even the darker side of nature – inclement weather, poisonous animals and insects, volcanoes – also deserves respect. The ability to appreciate and respect nature is one of the most powerful duties we possess as humans. Have you seen a child’s illuminated expression when he is hugging a small tree or when he turns his face up toward the clouds to let the raindrops fall on his face? Gratitude for nature is deep-rooted in our being, just waiting for the opportunity to express itself.

photo: jatawny m. chatmonGratitude ingrained...

There are myriad ways to make sure gratitude stays at the top of your family’s lists of habits, routines and rituals. Encourage your child to donate clothes and toys to those in need. Strengthen your child’s own generosity by consciously allowing him to be involved in activities where others would be grateful for his help. Say simple blessings of gratitude at the dinner table or before bed every night. Inspire your child to keep a gratitude diary or journal; gratitude lists can be an effective way to refocus after an overwhelming day or tense situation. In today’s digital world letter writing is a lost art, but imagine  special how someone would feel if she received a letter of thanks in the post from a child who thoroughly enjoyed a farm visit, loved a gift or appreciated help on an important school project. Giving your child chores and getting him involved in volunteer organizations also assist him in developing a greater appreciation for the hard work others do.

Reader Comments (1)

Yes, i totally agree with you that gratitude go beyond the thankful for any things...excellent article with the emotional and touching content. Thanks for sharing.
Aug 30, 2013 at 4:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterRestaurants in Newport

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