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Teaching our kids to say ‘thank you’ is important, but truly instilling a sense of gratitude in them is entirely another matter. Gratitude goes beyond good manners—it’s a mindset and a lifestyle.
A recent Wall Street Journal article about raising kids with gratitude acknowledged a growing interest in the area of gratitude in the younger generation. The piece cited studies showing that kids who count their blessings reap concrete benefits, including greater satisfaction and a better attitude towards school, friends and life in general.
So how do we as parents instill gratitude in our kids? Sometimes, the old traditional Indian way of raising kids in joint families – the days before i-pads, video games – the so-called simpler days made for simple living and a deeper appreciation of our traditional value systems. The difference between our childhood and that of our young children is that we were perfectly happy in the days of Doordarshan and waited impatiently for 8pm to strike on a Wednesday evening so that we could watch Chitrahaar. We played with our dolls and cars or with the neighbours’ kids and were perfectly content. On the other hand, our kids even at the age of four, rely on technology to keep them occupied. It’s as if they are in a constant rush, going from one means of entertainment to the next.
Kids are constantly glued to their video games. This is something that most parents grapple with on a day-to-day basis. Technology has made the world a smaller place. While it is a good thing in many ways, it also means that children are open to a lot of external influences which are not necessarily positive.
The question now is how to instill our old traditional value systems in our kids in this modern setup. The Gita says that it’s not happiness which makes us grateful but gratitude that makes us happy. Research suggests that happiness is related more to being grateful for what we already have. Gratitude means counting our blessings, noticing simple pleasures, acknowledging everything that we receive and being thankful for it. It means learning to live our lives as if everything were a miracle and being aware of how much we’ve been given on a continuous basis. Most importantly, gratitude increases positive vibrations, putting things in better perspective.
We realize that this is easier said than done. Where do we start? The feeling of gratitude should be taught early in a child. We can do this by:
- Starting with a little prayer naming our blessings every night – whether the list includes a favourite toy or a particularly good day in school. This daily tradition can help develop a positive frame of mind.
- Reminding our kids how happy we are to be their parents. This boosts their confidence in a Positive way.
- Not showering kids with too much as they must learn to appreciate what they have.
- Encouraging our kids to save their pocket money and pitching in if they really want something.
- Linking gratitude to a Higher Power, thereby introducing kids to our spiritual beliefs.
- Teaching kids to give back to the community whether it’s helping an elderly neighbour or working with under-privileged kids. This will help them appreciate what they already have.
- Insisting on politeness. When we teach our children to treat others with dignity and respect, they’ll be more likely to appreciate the ways in which those people contribute to and improve their lives.
- Behaving in an exemplary manner. All of us take the opportunity to have periodic conversations about values with our children but the key is to keep our eyes open for situations that eloquently illustrate our point. When kids can connect the concept of gratitude to a real-life situations, the lessons we’re teaching would be more likely to stick.
- Encouraging the kids to see the silver lining in all situations, even though it is natural for them to groan and complain about things.
If we follow these steps and teach our kids the true value of gratitude, we will be instrumental in sending out positive vibes to the world. This positive energy will in turn, come back to us ten-folds. What a beautiful place the world would be!