Gratitude – that’s our goal for Thanksgiving. To pause and be grateful. Gratitude opens the door to enjoyment of the life we have, rather than spending our time focused on the future as salvation from the present.
Yet, many parents express frustration with the lack of gratitude and appreciation that their children seem to experience. This is not the case for all children, of course. But for many families, parents notice that the more they give, the more that kids seem to want. And the more they want, the more their kids appear to lack appreciation for what they get.
Here are three keys to nurturing gratitude in your home:
1. Walk your talk.
Your kids can’t learn what you don’t teach. When parents come to my office and complain about their children not being grateful, I first ask them how frequently parents complain about money, family members, co-workers, jobs, or their children’s behavior.
Almost without exception, parents readily acknowledge that children are often exposed to Mom and Dad complaining about events at work, the lack of money in the budget, what the neighbors have done, in-laws “craziness,” or their lack of happiness with the children’s behavior. In other words, when we model a lack of gratitude and appreciation on a consistent basis, our children learn to follow in those footsteps.
So the first suggestion is quite simple. Stop noticing what’s wrong. Instead…notice what’s right in your world.
Pay attention, and stop complaining about what you don’t like. Instead, nurture discussions around the parts of your life that you love, the parts of your life that you enjoy, and the parts of your life that you appreciate.
Also, remember that it is hard to give your kids a gift that you don’t own. Gratitude has to begin with what we model. The more we live in a state of gratitude and appreciation, the more our children can learn naturally and easily. Without it, we are asking our children to master this approach …when we haven’t done so ourselves. It just won’t work.
2. Ignore your children’s repeated complaints and demands.
This is what really gets to you, isn’t it? When kids complain about their life – when you know it’s really an exceptional life they have.
Intuitively, we understand that there is no room for gratitude when your kids are caught up in making complaints, and constantly demanding more and more.
As parents, you know that children can become upset, and can express legitimate concerns for which they need our help and guidance. Obviously, you want to respond to these.
However, if you notice that your children have learned to habitually complain about their siblings, friends, parents or their teachers, it’s time to just “allow” those complaints. If they have fallen into the pattern of making repeated demands, then it is time to stop lecturing or resisting the demands and complaints. It is essential that you limit how much you “invest” in these complaints or demands, as your energy only serves to feed these negative patterns.
Instead, start ignoring the complaints and demands, and continue to ignore them.
Teach your children by your actions that such behavior is not worthy of your attention, and they will learn that such behavior is not worthy of their attention either. They will learn to let go of these patterns when you have let go of these patterns.
3. Instead, put your energy into “the good stuff.”
Are you serious about nurturing gratitude? To get the ball rolling and nurture an expanding sense of gratitude, you have got to put your daily energy into the behaviors and actions you value (in this case…appreciation).
Start noticing everything that you enjoy and appreciate about your children’s behavior. Let your kids know how grateful you are that they open the door, or carry in the groceries, or take the dog for a walk. Express appreciation for how they waited patiently in the car, or answered the phone respectfully. Use thoughtful language consistently and repeatedly as you pay more and more attention to the behavior that you want to nurture and promote.
Key Secret: For every one time you express your appreciation verbally, catch four more positive moments and just notice these without comment. Simply smile, or wink, or nod. It could even be a touch on the shoulder. In other words, give lots of non-verbal appreciation by smiling and noticing the moments you really appreciate and enjoy.
In this way, you use your influence to nurture “the good stuff.” Your children will learn to pay attention and to notice the most wonderful and valuable parts of their life. They will be able to do so because you are taking the time and putting forth the energy to notice their behavior.
I wish you all a wonderful and peaceful Thanksgiving. As you spend time with those you love, I hope you begin to put these ideas to work, so you can see the power of these simple changes.