Fostering Grateful Children in a Me, Me, Me World
It’s nearly impossible not to spoil your children. There’s always a toy they’ve “got” to have, and when you agree that toys these days are pretty cool it’s hard not to give in. Every day there’s a new app for the iPad that you excuse because it’s a “learning” tool. And the list of experiences that you can enjoy all for the sake of creating memories and having fun is endless.
In the midst of trying to be doting parents, your children can easily lose the ability of being grateful: Grateful for material things as well as for adventures that you think of as commonplace, such as trips to museums and parks. And it’s not only all the stuff; it’s easy to take even the necessities in life for granted. It’s hard for children to understand that others may not be as blessed as they are, and that there are people in your own towns and throughout the world who don’t have your advantages.
In that vane, and seeing that Thanksgiving is right around the corner, we’ve come up with some simple ways to help your children gain appreciation for their plentiful world.
1. Be a Role Model of Gratefulness
You can’t expect your children to show appreciation if you don’t model it yourself. Make a point of saying out loud how much you are thankful for your home, your health, and your family. Pray together, giving thanks for all the wonderful things in your lives. Voicing your thankfulness emphasizes that you recognize that others may be less fortunate, though not necessarily less deserving than you are. Show gratefulness to one another for everything from simple acts of kindness to greater gestures like gifts and time spent with each other. Emphasize and model the importance of spending quality time with grandparents, great grandparents, or any elderly people. Our elders are reminders that time with loved ones is more important than any object.
Your job as parents isn’t just to care for and protect your children. Equally as important is modeling how you should treat others so that they will be caring and kind members of society. Your children pick up on how you treat others and how you show thanks for your joyful life. Be grateful, and they will follow suit.
Get the kids involved in your community. There are endless opportunities for charities regardless of age. Contact organizations depending on what you feel would best suit your child’s interests as well as their strengths. Perhaps they love to play board games: Bring a game to play with elderly folks at a nursing home. Maybe they love fire trucks: Offer to help wash a truck at your local fire station. Do they like to visit people in their homes? Deliver food to those who are home-bound. Are they sociable helpful in the kitchen? Serve meals at a soup kitchen. Are they handy with a rake? Help tidy up the landscaping around local parks or in the yard of an orphanage.
Needless to say, there are plenty of ideas for ways in which you can help in your local community based on any interests your child may have.
3. Distribute Care Packages
Assembling care packages for homeless people, especially during these cold months, is an easy yet thoughtful way to get kids involved in their community. Keep a box of them in your car and hand them out when you see fit. It’s a physical reminder for your children when they see you giving a toothbrush, Kleenex and snacks away that not everyone has these everyday items.
Read Helping the Homeless: Blessing Bags for more information!
Shopping List for Homeless Care Packages:
- Peanut Butter Crackers
- Hand and Foot Warmers
- Raisins and Dried Fruit
- Toothbrush and Toothpaste
- Card Games
4. Donate Gently Used Toys, Blankets and Books
Physically picking out used toys, blankets and books to give to other children is a strong reminder that there are others who have far less than you do. And speaking of being role models: Join them in cleaning our your own closets. Be sure to clean the items and make sure they are not only ready to use, but in such good shape that you’d be willing for your own kids to use and play with them.
Need help getting your kids to understand all this? Look no further than The Berenstain Bears. Two great books to read to your children are The Berenstain Bears: Think of Those in Need and The Berenstain Bears Lend a Helping Hand. Both of these books are an excellent approach to verbalizing the whole idea of helping others.
5. Send Letters and a Box of Goodies to Troops Overseas
Out of sight, out of mind is super easy when it comes to our military personnel who are stationed throughout the world; but a simple letter from a child could brighten the day of a soldier who misses their family or may be feeling under appreciated. Remind your children that these heroes don’t get to come home for holidays. You could also include drawings, artwork, some treats that they may not have access too or card games that are easy to carry with them. Think about including a photo of your family so they can put a face with your name.
There are several organizations that send care packages to troops overseas. Two of these organizations are Operation Gratitude and Operation Care Packages. Both of these organizations have lists of items that are most needed and appreciated, such as:
- Stamps and Stationary
- Phone Cards
- Girl Scout Cookies
- Slim Jims and Protein Bars
- Card Games
- Candy (Leftover Halloween candy)
- Nuts and Trail Mix
- Instant Oatmeal and Easy Mac
Another way to thank our troops is to send a Christmas card to an injured soldier at Walter Reed Medical Center. When you are filling out your cards this Christmas, take some time to say “thanks” and send a card to:
A Recovering American Soldier
C.O. Walter Reed Army Medical Center
6900 Georgia Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20307-5001
Think of how many spirits can be lifted by simply reminding our veterans that they have not been forgotten, especially at a time of year when they’re missing their families the most.
6. Thank a Teacher
Thanksgiving is the perfect time to show appreciation for the awesome teachers in your kids’ lives. Have your child list the reasons for which they are thankful for their teacher. Deliver the note with some fresh fruit, as you all know that teachers love their apples!
And don’t forget the support staff of the school: include the office staff as well as the cafeteria and janitorial staffs. It’ll be nice to give those who don’t normally receive the “thanks” an extra boost.
7. Spend Some, Save Some, Give Some
When your children receive money for birthdays or chores, teach them to:
- Spend Some: Buy their own toys instead of always being bought for them.
- Save Some: The lesson of saving can never start too early. Set a goal for what they’d like to save for. Set up a savings account at the bank and have them take part in making the deposits and reviewing the statements.
- Give Some: Have them choose a charity to which they’d like to give some money. Forming this habit early will create giving children who grow up to be giving adults.
For more information, read Money Management for Kids: Save, Share, Spend!
The bottom line is this: Do what you can to encourage gratefulness. Being thankful for your blessings is the most simple way that you can foster happiness in your life. When your children are exposed to those who are not as fortunate as they are, they will quickly see that those people are genuinely happy even without so many “things”. Once they are accustomed to a broader view of different lifestyles, they’ll certainly be more appreciative for theirs.
For more great ways to teach your child generosity, check out Give Your Kids the Gift of Gratitude this Holiday.
Photo Credits: Melissa Wistehuff
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Melissa lives in North Carolina with her husband, three children and two cats. When she is not acting as a taxi driver or roaming the aisles of Target, she enjoys hot tea, spending time with girlfriends and family movie nights. She is constantly on the search for all things good, as showcased on her website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter .