As the Holiday Season starts to unfold, we not only begin Holiday plans but often we build in more moments to pause and express our gratitude for our lives. It is truly one of those hidden secrets of happiness. Gratitude opens the door to the enjoyment of the life we have now…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 their children want. And the more they want, the more they appear to lack appreciation for what they get. Many of us see this happening and don’t know what to do about it. Here are three keys to getting started:
1. Be Chronically Grateful!
When parents come to my office and complain about their children not being grateful, I first ask how often they complain about their life. Almost without exception, parents concede that their children often hear Mom and Dad complaining about each other, 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, many of us who want our children to be more grateful is modeling the opposite! We model negativity…noticing much more of what is not working…rather than focusing on what is working!
So the first suggestion is quite simple: Become what you want your children to be.
Stop noticing what’s wrong! Instead…notice what is 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 teach your kids a trait 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 perspective…when we haven’t done so ourselves. It just won’t work.
2. Stop Rewarding Negativity By Giving It Your Energy and Attention.
Negativity can take many forms. It can look like a complaint, a constant problem, finding what’s wrong with everything, and always wanting more.
Okay…let’s get real for a minute. This is what really gets to you…isn’t it. When kids complain about their life…and you know that they really have an exceptional life.
Intuitively, we understand that there is no room for gratitude when your kids are caught up in making complaints, finding only problems, and constantly asking for 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. Or 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, just “allow” the complaints to fall on disinterested ears. Show no interest whatsoever, in other words…just ignore them completely!
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. Instead…
3. Invest Your Life Energy Into “The Good Stuff.”
Are you serious about nurturing gratitude? Here’s how you get the ball rolling. You have got to put your daily energy into the behaviors and actions you value.
Don’t be lazy about this. If you are serious about nurturing gratitude and appreciation, here’s the formula that will make it happen.
1. Start noticing how often things work out to serve you and your family. Find (in your own mind) how you find more appreciation for clerks at the grocery store, your neighbor, your friend, and even your health. Even when you see a lack (such as a lack of health), see if you can find a way where it serves to strengthen you and bring you to a state of greater appreciation. NOW…start expressing that when you around your children.
2. 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 help 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.
3. For every instance where you express your appreciation for your children’s actions, “catch” four more positive moments and just notice these without verbal comment. Simply smile. Or simply wink. Or simply nod. Or it could be a touch on the shoulder or a brief “thumbs-up.” In other words, give lots of non-verbal appreciation…by simply 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…because you do! 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 Holiday Season! 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.