How to Practice and Teach Gratefulness as a Parent

How to Practice and Teach Gratefulness as a Parent

We as parents strive to have grateful children. We want them to appreciate what they have and how much others do for them. But typically, this is not natural and we must take the opportunity to develop this part of the character.

Last week my son and I were getting ready to go shopping for a birthday present for one of his friends. While we were discussing what we should buy his friend, my son quickly started talking about what toy he wanted to buy for himself. I let him know that we were only shopping for his friend and that he didn’t need another toy. The rest of the conversation went like this:

Son:  “But dad, I do need another toy!”
Me:   “No, you don’t need another toy, you want another toy.”
Son:  “No dad, I really do need one.”
Me:   “You’ve got a lot of wonderful toys already, and you’ll probably get more for the holidays and your birthday that’s coming up.”
Son:  “I know that dad, but I still need another toy today!”

At this point in the conversation I was forced to get creative. So i tried to explain to him the difference between needs and wants through using an example.

Me:   “How many bass guitars does daddy have?”
Son:  “Two.”
Me:   “How many bass guitars does daddy want?”
Son:  “I don’t know.”
Me:   “Twenty. Or maybe even thirty. I want all different kinds of basses. I want ones with four, five, and six strings. I want some with frets and some without frets. I want some made from ash and some out of alder woods.”
Son:  “What?”
Me:   “Yup. I want a lot of different bass guitars. So why don’t I have more?”
Son:  “I don’t know.”
Me:   “Do you think I don’t have the money to go buy more bass guitars?”
Son:  “I don’t know.”
Me:   “I do have more money, but there are all kinds of things that we need to buy that are more important than more bass guitars. We need the money to pay for school, our house, and the food we eat.”
Son:  “Oh.”
Me:   “So even though I do want more bass guitars, I really love the two that I have and I feel lucky to have them.”

I was finally getting somewhere. But at this point I still don’t think I got him entirely over his desire for a new toy, so I tried something else.

Me:   “Son, list for me your top 10 favorite toys.”
Son:  “I don’t know.”
Me:   “Give it a try. Think about what are your favorites? Maybe train tracks?”

The specific toy quickly got his attention.

Son:  “Yeah! Train tracks, Legos, airplane…”
Me:   “Good! See you’ve got lots of wonderful toys already! Don’t those make you happy?”
Son:  “Yes, I love those toys and I really don’t need another one right now.”

Bingo. When we went to the store, he spent 10 or 15 minutes looking at different toy options for his friend and not once did he ask me to buy one for him.

We as adults are often in a similar predicament as my son. We are tempted all around us to want more. We want a new car, bigger house, and nicer vacations. We want a bigger paycheck, to eat out more, and to have nicer clothes.

Wanting nicer things in life is not bad, but when it becomes our focus and consumes us, ironically, we miss out on an opportunity for more. When we’re wanting something, that means we’re not being grateful for what we do have. You can’t be truly grateful and wanting at the same time.

“Gratefulness unlocks joy. Nothing that we take for granted gives us joy.”  – David Steindl-Rast

Most of us reading this have more than most humans have ever had in the history of the world. Let that sink in.

We have more abundance now than ever before and anywhere else. We have more opportunity, access to education, and technology. We have better medicine, better access to healthy food, and have so many ways to stay connected to our loved ones.

Yet we’re often unhappy because we’re focused on what we don’t have. Capitalism feeds on this desire and the advertising industry fuels the fire.

But gratefulness, which is appreciating what we do have, has all kinds of benefits.

Those who are more grateful are more content. There are proven health benefits to practicing gratefulness more often such as reduced stress and better sleep. Gratefulness also helps reduce our materialism which helps improve our personal finances by spending less. And finally, gratefulness is attractive by making us less self-centered.

So beyond leading by example, how do we teach our kids to be more grateful?

We make it part of our daily conversation with them. We encourage and practice generosity with them. We help them find ways to help others, whether its ‘their siblings, friends, or grandparents. We insist on thank you notes. We make them do chores and explain how much other people do for them.

And we say no. No to some of their wants and take the opportunity to help them be grateful for what they do have. And while we’re at, we can take a moment to be grateful for all the things we have as well. Which for me, usually starts with my children and family at the top of the list.

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