Gratitude. It seems to be in the forefront of our thoughts especially during the holidays. But, how many of us genuinely practice gratitude all year long?
Aside from the heart-tugging commercials about donating to your local food shelter, or adopting a family on Christmas; there are ways to teach your children how to have a heart of gratitude not just in the giving seasons. As homeschoolers, we have the unique opportunity to instill and share values of gratitude with our children all throughout the year.
1. SHOW YOUR APPRECIATION
Encouraging gratitude in children is best done by modeling the behavior. Daily routines of expressing gratitude help children understand that the practice begins at home.
Try some of the following:
- At dinner time, have each child and adult write down one thing they are grateful for that happened that day.
- Place the folded pieces of writings in a gratitude jar. At the end of the week or even on New Year’s Day, read the entire jar’s worth of writing. It’s a great reminder not only of how much you have shared as a family but about those who care for you each day.
2. ASK FOR HELP
Asking for help is something that everyone must do at some point in life. Asking younger children to help with meal preparation, clean up, and daily chores helps them realize that contributing makes a difference to everyone. People feel appreciated when others lend a hand and help. Talk to your children about the experiences of both giving and receiving help.
Regular volunteering can foster a lifelong attitude of giving back to community. While volunteering around the holidays is always needed, making time to serve all year long, exposes children to the long-term benefits of helping and gratitude.
Families sometimes find it difficult to search for opportunities for younger children to volunteer, but children of all ages have many opportunities to give in their community. Those people who aren’t as socially active as they used to be often love the presence of young children and helpers. After volunteering, ask your children how they felt, how they think those that they helped felt, and what more they could do to help in the future. Remind children that gratitude is often unspoken, and that their purpose is to help others, even if words of thanks don’t always accompany the act.
Consider some of the following if you’re having trouble locating volunteer opportunities:
- Visiting nursing homes to play board games with the residents or to sing songs.
- Maintaining a garden at group homes.
- Helping at a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm.
- Donating food and care at animal shelters.
- Offering lawn care to elderly.
- Spending some time in a soup kitchen or clothing outlet for the homeless.
- Putting together bags for the needy with toiletries, lip balm, protein bars, socks, gloves, and hats. Check with your local shelter to see what they need.
- Knitting or crocheting hats for premature babies.
- Walking a neighbor’s dog.
Try to make volunteering a regular tradition to foster gratitude all year long.
4. GIVE EXPERIENCES, NOT THINGS
Instead of Grandma and Grandpa giving your children plastic toys for every holiday and birthday, encourage them to give the gift of experiences and time. Experiences help grow and deepen family connections.
Ask relatives and friends for memberships to the zoo, or aquarium. Or perhaps a special lunch and movie date can be become a new tradition. Take lots of photos of the event, and gift the giver with a special card or photo album of the wonderful day as a thank you. Children will remember and cherish the special outing for years to come.
5. EXPRESS GRATITUDE FREELY AND OFTEN
Children learn from observing the behavior around them. Be sure to express your own gratitude for their efforts, and for being part of the family. Show kindness and gratitude when you are out in stores or markets or whenever kindness is shown to you. It’s easy to overlook small efforts as not being worthy of gratitude, but even small acts of kindness go a long way in the eyes of children.
Instilling the gifts of gratitude in the hearts of children does not happen overnight.