This is the time of year when we're all a little more sensitive about feeling grateful. Fires ravage the west, poverty and ill health tamp down lives, friendships fade, families divide and we sometimes lose loved ones. With our age, comes a deeper understanding of the suffering of others, as well as a heartfelt appreciation of what we have to be thankful for.,
Although we're aware of this all year long, somehow, around the holidays it's even more pressing. As grandparents, when we see a little one wanting yet another toy or candy bar, or hear an angry, entitled teen expecting to get what they want, we're reminded that it's not easy for kids to internalize the concept of gratefulness. And it's not easy to teach it, either.
Psychologists suggest that thankfulness, empathy and compassion are big parts of learning to feel grateful. And these can be taught. Young children begin by recognizing their own joy, fear or sadness and talking about their personal feelings. Four, five and six year olds can master the language of feelings and even the non-verbal cues of other people that go along with them.
Generally, we think we've got it covered once kids no longer have to be reminded to be polite. When they say "please" and "thank you" they're on the road to feeling grateful. Right?
Psychologists tell us, not necessarily... There's a difference between being "thankful" and "grateful." Thankfulness is a feeling: "being conscious of the benefits received," according to Merriam-Webster. Gratefulness is deeper. It's more lasting and becomes a perspective, a way of life. It may involve being thankful for something you haven't yet received. It's an outlook on life.
Some kids are polite out of habit, but are still too young to be able to appreciate the giver. Consequently, we may need to be more explicit when we talk about feeling thankful if we want them to fully understand and show appreciation.
In the Raising Grateful Children Project at Chapel Hill, NC, researchers think it's better to take feelings a step further so they have a more significant impact. Why not ask our grandkids how it makes them feel when someone gives them a gift? This is important because it establishes a deeper connection to the giver. "Why do you think your uncle gave you this fishing pole?" "How did you feel when he gave you something that meant so much to him?" and "How do you think Uncle John felt when he gave you his fishing pole? He had it since he was a child!" We may be able to help them take that next step to learn about gratefulness by saying, "When you go fishing, you'll probably be so grateful that you have a cool fishing pole when you catch that big trout!"
We want our grandkids to go beyond being polite, to develop that deeper sense of gratefulness. Why is this so important? Besides the obvious reasons, it seems there's a great lifetime bonus. Study after study shows that grateful children are happier children. Consequently, by teaching about gratefulness you may be teaching your grandchildren to be happier people.
Here are 12 common-sense reminders about teaching gratefulness that I've collected from experts.
1. Say it ourselves. "I'm so grateful for this beautiful day!"
2. Let them see you give away something that you value. Tell them why you're doing it. "I've always loved this dress but now it's time for someone else to enjoy it."
3. Share in a volunteer effort with your grandchildren. Work at a soup kitchen, a tag sale, a barn raising, a community event. Talk about how it makes you feel.
4. Send out thank you cards. It's so much easier to text a note but a card is visual and the children can sign their names and draw pictures. It's the old fashioned way to show thanks and the best.
5. Role play "thank you" with stuffed animals, dolls and other toys.
6. Homa S. Tavangar, who writes for PBS has a good way to establish expectations when shopping. When her child was just 2 years old they had "look" days and "buy" days and they established this before they went out. Now, her child realizes that there are more "look" days and is able to accept this.
7. At dinner or bedtime talk about what you're most grateful for that day. Make this a habit.
8. Teach kindness. It seems so obvious and it is. But we all need to be reminded about one of my most favorite expressions, "It's more important to be kind than to be right."
9. Don't offer too many choices. It produces anxiety and arguments. Two choices within reason are plenty. Keep it simple.
10. Tell your grandkids stories about the past. This can help them put today's materialistic life and myriad choices into some sort of perspective. What was it like for you when you were young? Your parents? What did you get for Christmas? Did you take a vacation? Did your family make your clothes?
11. Be careful about the media and advertising your grandkids are exposed to. Enough said!
12. Encourage your more responsible grandchildren to take care of younger children. Help them help other kids who are more needy. Tell them how much this is valued and appreciated.
Hopefully, your grandchildren will someday be grateful for all you're doing! And they may be happier for it, too!!!
So when we say "Happy Thanksgiving" it may actually have a double meaning.
I'm sure you have more ideas. If so, we'd be grateful for them...
Happy Thanksgiving, grandparents!