If there’s one thing I struggle with, when it comes to my kids – okay, who are we kidding? I struggle with everything when it comes to my kids – it’s trying to get them to understand just how lucky they are, compared to so many other children. Other children in our town who are struggling to get food into their bellies every day. Other children in our province who don’t have clean water to drink. Other children in our country who don’t have the support they need to thrive. Other children in different parts of the world who are just trying to stay alive until tomorrow.
The weight I feel as an adult aware of all these other children out there can feel overwhelming. And when I hear my own kids complaining about not getting a second yogurt drink in a day, when they throw themselves on the floor in a hissy fit because they weren’t allowed to watch another TV show before bedtime? I admit that I kind of want to shake some sense into them, tell them how good they have it.
But they are 3 years old and 6 years old. It’s hard for them to understand the larger picture.
As we near Thanksgiving, though, I desperately want them to be aware of their place of privilege in the world. So this year, I’ve decided to try some new things to help cultivate gratitude and awareness.
Often, when we ask children to talk about what they’re grateful, it comes down to things. And really, things are transitory. Our connections with other people are what make life meaningful, so asking your kids who, rather than what, will have them thinking about which relationships matter, rather than the stuff that fills their room.
This may seem nebulous, but the idea of cultivating gratitude for what we already have begins with saying thank you to someone. Maybe it’s a friend who gave them a great birthday present, maybe it’s a teacher or daycare provider they love, maybe it’s their nana or grandpa. Regardless, you are teaching your child to become more aware of who matters to them and why. And you’re making someone else feel good in the process.
Last year, I was able to connect with a parent who were gathering clothes and household items for a Syrian family who had just arrived in Canada, in the dead of winter. The little girl was my daughter’s age, and while I never succeeded in getting the two to meet as I had hoped, once my daughter found out her name, she became truly excited to share her things. A personal connection can often help foster understanding with a young child about what it means to donate what they own to someone who needs it more.
We have to live by example, right? If we don’t thank our kids when they clean up their toys, or draw us a picture, or set the table, how will they ever understand how important it is? If we don’t stop and express gratitude for what we have in our lives, not just on Thanksgiving, but every day, how will they every learn to do the same?
Gratitude is a complicated thing to teach, but it’s a feeling we can never have enough of. Starting your kids thinking about what it means to feel grateful doesn’t need to happen only at Thanksgiving, but it sure is a great time to start the practice.