Living Gratitude: An Ingredient of Resilience for Every Expatriate Family (Part 4)

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I got discouraged, teaching my kids gratitude. Why weren’t they more grateful? Did I miss something along the way? Maybe they got given too much? Had too much? Maybe not enough of this or that? Was I not modeling appreciation and gratitude like I could have?

Looking back, I saw lots of hope:

• Doin’ It Right (1st born son) was the kid who gave his shirt to a homeless Cambodian boy at age 10.
Missionary Picture• Princess (oldest daughter) wrapped her most treasured Etch a Sketch as a present for her Indonesian friend (even though I asked “are you sure?” until she finally screamed “yes and I’m not going to say it again!”). She always had the most polite “thank you”.
• La Di Da Girl (2nd daughter) was so creative, sending drawings and notes of appreciation frequently. She never saved allowance because she was forever buying gifts for others.
• And Munchie Crunchy Bar had the most endearing “please” and “thanks” – around his little finger, he had us wrapped! He loved helping, and would often say “I like it when you…” and could finish the sentence with more ideas than I could imagine.

Then came the teen years and I wondered what alien had overtaken their persona and character! Years of little behavioural or voiced gratitude. Now that 3 of 4 are grown, we’re reaping the benefits of trying to teach well. Don’t get me wrong – we failed many times. We forgot at others. We weren’t consistent and didn’t model like we could have. Yet children grow up… most often, in spite of us! Thank God! How grateful we are to have raised kids who are now adults, who live gratitude. You can too…

Part Four: Teaching Your Children and Teens Gratitude

Guess what? None of us are born grateful! “Recognizing that someone has gone out of the way for you is not a natural behavior for children — it’s learned”, says Mary Jane Ryan, author of Attitudes of Gratitude. By learning gratitude, your children become sensitive to the feelings of others. Research with children and teens has shown a marked increase in better attitudes and school grades, the ability to achieve personal goals, increased happiness, and better relationships all around. 14 ideas for teaching:

1. Model gratitude. The best way to teach is live it yourself. More is caught than taught. Speak directly to what you’re grateful for in your child.
Ie. “Thank you for sharing with your sister” ; “I’m happy to see you put your toys into the trunk” ; “I appreciate the way you go through your bedtime routine without reminders.”

2. Start teaching your kids early. Children can begin to grasp the concept of being thankful as toddlers. At that age they’re Child Craftdevelopmentally self centered, so keep your expectations reasonable. At 15-18 months, “they comprehend that they are separate human beings from their parents, and that Mom and Dad do things to make them happy (from playing peekaboo to handing out cookies),” says Barbara Lewis, author of What Do You Stand For? For Kids. By age 2 or 3, children can talk about being thankful for specific objects, animals, and people. And by age 4, children can understand being thankful not only for material things like toys, but for acts of kindness, love, and caring.

3. Teach good manners. Why? Because they overlap with gratefulness. Saying “thank you” might just be a learned behavior for now, but when they are old enough they will be able to attach the meaning to the manners.

4. Have kids help. It happens to all of us: You give your child a chore, but its agonizing watching them take forever or make a huge mess. The temptation is to step in and do it yourself, but the more you do, the less kids appreciate your efforts. By helping in household chores, they understand that these things take effort and don’t just happen automatically. Give your child age-appropriate chores. They’ll feel the satisfaction of making a valuable contribution to the family.

5. Hit the “rewind” button. Explain the steps that made it possible for your children to have certain simple things. Ex. What are the steps that it takes – to get milk on the table? To enjoy a family picnic? To have a cell phone? How was the toy made? When they realize how much work and effort go into things, they appreciate them more. Similar to #4.

6. Practise saying “no”. It’s natural to want to give things to your children to make them happy. However, it’s difficult to feel grateful when your every whim is granted. Saying ‘no’ makes saying ‘yes’ that much sweeter. Waiting helps them learn how to handle disappointment and decreases a sense of entitlement.

7. Be grateful for your children. We all get frustrated with our kids. That’s normal. Communicating that frustration by complaining can be poisonous. Kids start to feel shamed and inferior. Follow idea #2 under the Couple Gratitude blog (READ HERE).The child development research of Betty Hart and Todd Risley found that” children who are the most intelligent, self-confident and flexible … at ages 6-8, had experienced five times more positive than negative interchanges with their parents by age 3”! The most important implication is that appreciation nurtures!

Swimming8. Focus on experiences, not stuff. More than anything your children want your time and attention. They want to experience life with you. As expat parents, we can give them amazing experiences for their memory banks, where togetherness is what they will learn to appreciate.

9. Teach them to look beyond ‘things’. There is so much more to treasure than material things. What about the sunny day that is allowing them to play outside? The kid in their class who showed them the way to open their locker at their new school? The sports team they have the privilege of playing on? Lessons that they take to learn to play an instrument? What about love, kindness, hope and joy that they experience? When they’re thankful for someTHING, get them to go one step further. You could ask “what (or who) else could you be thankful for around this thing?” Ex. answers: “it will bring me lots of fun” ; “I’m thankful for whoever gave it to me” ; “I now have another toy to play with my friends and share” ; “I can learn… with this toy.”

10. Don’t compare. Sometimes we think “another child would be so much more grateful for this than you are right now!” but verbalizing it isn’t teaching them to be thankful. It is comparison and will only make kids feel guilty or shamed instead of grateful. Try educating them about differences. Explain to them in an age-appropriate way that there are people who do not have toys and food and clothes, without comparing.

11. Help kids understand that gifts are thoughtful gestures. When they receive something, no matter how big or small, Child Presentencourage them to focus on the thought behind the gift. Ex. if it’s a drawing a friend did at school for them, say something like, “That was so kind to draw that for you; they must really like you as a friend to make such a lovely drawing with those colours.” Adding meaning to the act of giving will create deeper appreciation.

12. Teach gratefulness in hard times. Find the good in every situation. Can they be grateful when saying goodbyes, knowing the loss is because they made a very special friend? Or when they don’t get picked for the soccer team because a different opportunity will open up? What good came or could come from this? Teach them to find the silver lining around the storm clouds.

13. Explain the cost. For a child to be truly grateful, researchers have found they need to understand that someone intentionally gave some benefit to them (ex. homework help from Dad), and that it involved some cost (i.e., Dad could have done something else with that hour). Point out how others have gone out of their way to help your child/teen. This connects back to #5.

14. Especially for teens:

• Clarify the difference between rights and privileges. For ex., it’s the right of our teens to be clothed, but a privilege to wear designer jeans. Don’t lecture. Use dinner or ‘real time’ conversations to help them distinguish between the two.

• Acknowledge failure and frustration- yours and theirs. Owning your own weakness is important. Adding humor helps: “Oops, I messed up, sorry. I must have left my brain on my pillow this morning—I’ll go get it,” or “Everyone makes mistakes—we can be thankful we have the ability to fix them.”
Child Raking Leaves

• Give responsibilities and privileges. When teens take on responsibility, they learn how fortunate they are to have help, and how it feels to give back to those they love. Allowing them privileges shows trust and appreciation for what they contribute.

• Be ok with warped expressions of gratitude. We asked our teens for reasons they were grateful for the people they were complaining about, and this led to some sarcastic comments like, “Well, I’m grateful I don’t have him in my group” or “thank goodness he’s not my teacher this semester”. Sometimes teen gratitude is not 100% what we’re looking for. It’s ok. Go with it. Smile.

• Let them take the lead. Developmentally, teens need to break away from their parents. Every time they take your advice on gratitude, they’re remaining dependent. They want you to recognize their wisdom, so tell them you’d like to find ways to promote gratitude, and ask for their ideas. Let them design a family project. We were thrilled at the ideas our teens came up with when we chose this step. This year our teen wanted to help at the Operation Christmas Child Shoe Box warehouse here in Calgary and bake Christmas goodies for a Homeless Shelter.

Above all, be patient! Teaching gratitude is a long-term goal, not something that can be done in a few sittings! It take years, so be in it for the long haul!

Silouette of FamilyAs a family, how are you already living gratitude? What practise would you like to add? How will you celebrate your success?

I’m here cheering you on! Make small, every day miracles to build strength in your family this week!

Becky Signature 2



Check this cute you-tube video: How to Teach Kids Gratitude – According to Kids!

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