November 24, 2015

Teaching Gratitude…

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am reminded once again of all that I am thankful for. Life experience has taught me to take nothing for granted.

Fortunately, no matter what life has handed me, I’ve been able to protect my kids from experiencing much of the uncertainty and negativity many families face. Even during the year I was seriously ill, my girls were young enough for me to shield from most of the worry. We spent lots of time snuggling. We were lucky enough to always have tasty, healthy food on the table, and cozy beds.

That said, when Christmases or Birthdays come around, I realize that providing my girls the “good life”, also comes with a downside. When they complain that their mountain of stuffed animals “isn’t enough” (when I know there are families struggling to buy just one) or they say they need “don’t have anything to read” in their bookshelf (when I know many kids have nothing), or they “need” their own rooms, or a puppy, or laptops, or iPhones or a trip to the Hawaii… and I know so many families who are struggling just to get by, I feel like I’m going to explode!

When this happens, I go a bit “CRAZY MOMMY” and explain in no uncertain terms, “If I hear this sort of talk again, I’m going to round-up all the “stuff” you are obviously taking for granted, and put it in a big bag and take it somewhere where kids will REALLY appreciate it!” (YES! I think we’ve ALL given this lecture!)

When they are old enough, having your kids write “Thank You” cards is definitely a step in the right direction. Even so, it can feel like a perfunctory task that kids “get good at”– as if writing a thank you card were a necessary part of the gift receiving transaction.

But short of this, what can we really do to help our kids understand the true nature of gratitude? A loving parent would never subject their child to experiencing food or housing insecurity to get the point across that WE SHOULD REALLY BE GRATEFUL for the food we eat, or our cozy home. I’m excited to give my kids Christmas presents, and feel blessed to treat them with special things once in a while…

There will always be those with a little more, and always those with a little less. But, short of sounding like a broken record (and really, how effective is lecturing anyway?)… how do we help our children explore the concept of GRATITUDE in a truly meaningful way?

How do you teach gratitude?

 

Adam Grant, Wharton professor and NY Times Op Ed writer on work and psychology has some interesting research to share. He says, instead of focusing on just being grateful, we should encourage ourselves to think of ourselves as givers.

In this recent article he shared some findings from his research:

A few years ago, Jane Dutton and I asked people to donate a portion of their money to relief efforts for the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The base rate of giving in a control group was 13%. When we randomly assigned a second group of people to list three things they had received from others, donations climbed to 21%.

Not bad… until we saw that a different exercise spiked the giving rate above 46%.

Instead of reflecting on what they had received, we asked a third group to write down three things that they had contributed to others. Now they saw themselves as givers, and here was a chance to earn that identity by helping victims of a natural disaster.

Gratitude is a temporary emotion. Giving is a lasting value.

Grant found in another study that if fundraisers were asked to keep a journal over two weeks; one group reflected on what they received and one group on what they gave. Over the next two weeks, the those who wrote about on giving “increased their total effort by 25% — and put in 13% more hourly effort” than those who wrote about receiving.

So, instead of JUST focusing on gratitude this season… I’m going to ask my girls:

What are THREE things you have given to others? 

These could be actual gifts, or donations, like making cards for grandparents, choosing to donate toys they’ve outgrown, or picking out a NEW toy to give to Christmas charity.) It could also be time or attention, like helping a parent do chores or a little sister read a book.

What a great way to teach our kids that giving is truly better than receiving!

What do you think? How do you teach gratitude and charity for your children? How do you model these concepts in a concrete way? Share your ideas in the comments below!

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About alimcollins

Ali Collins is an educator, community organizer and mom. She lives with her husband and twin girls in San Francisco, CA.

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