If your house is anything like mine it can sometimes feel like the holiday music is drowned out by a chorus of complaints. Too much homework, not enough sleep, dinner looks gross, I never get to do anything, I need more clothes… and the list goes on. For many children and teens, the world seems to revolve around them – so how do we get them to focus on gratitude this Thanksgiving season, instead of dissatisfaction?
For all of us, thankfulness is a learned lifestyle, it does not come naturally – especially when we are having a really bad day and the last thing we want to do is give ourselves a pep talk. Rather, we might succumb to our self-pity by listening to sad music and basking in our woe-is-me thinking. However, in order to really lead lives that are richly satisfying, we must remind ourselves daily to be more sensitive to the blessings around us. Gratitude is about acknowledging and accepting our present circumstances while choosing to see and feel the good in the midst of our everyday lives or even our hurts and disappointments.
At Compass Rose Academy, we’ve learned that more is caught than taught. Parents modeling gratitude is one of the best ways to instill gratitude in our children, who may otherwise have a natural bent toward self-centeredness or entitlement. Here are a few ways you can help your teens practice thankfulness this season.
• Share your thanksgivings. When interacting with your teen, share what you’re thankful for, and instead of talking about the latest thing you’re wishing for, be grateful for what you have now. Share your thanksgivings around the dinner table or in the car. Make a point to have each family member share a new thanksgiving each day – and be sure to demonstrate how acknowledging some hard or disappointing circumstances can lead to growth, change and happiness.
• Give to others. Start a family tradition to serve others during the holidays. Giving back to those less fortunate reminds your teen how good they actually have it and produces compassion in their hearts for other people – besides, there is no better medicine for selfishness and sadness than giving back. Feed the homeless at a soup kitchen or donate winter coats and blankets to The Salvation Army, play games with the elderly at a nursing home, sponsor a needy family for Christmas, buying them gifts so that they, too, have something to open on Christmas, or deliver and share a meal with a lonely person in your neighborhood. This type of altruism goes a long way in battling a sense of entitlement!
• Reminisce. Point out all the wonders and fun things going on around your children. Point out the beauty in the leaves changing and the sunset, the feeling of warm, fuzzy socks on a cold day or a cup of hot chocolate, the joy of upcoming winter festivities like an annual tree-lighting or ice-skating trip. This is not lecturing your teens, like “You have no right to be angry or sad when we’ve got all these gifts around here!” Instead, it is role modeling, “When I feel sad or angry because of some tough things going on, I’m so thankful for these moments of joy.”
• Thank your children. When your child does something kind or good, let them know! Acknowledge their moments of generosity and gratitude. When you highlight their good acts, it encourages them to keep at it, because they know they’re doing something excellent and note-worthy. In fact, because of what’s called “mirror neurons,” your genuine expression of gratitude lights up their brains in a way that is reinforcing!
• Teach them about their freedom. We are extremely blessed to live in a country where we can freely speak our minds, travel, work and worship. Teach your teen about those who are not as fortunate by sharing stories about what’s going on in other parts of the world and how drastically different their lives are by comparison. Since experience is the greatest teacher, learning these lessons in the most “up close and personal” way possible will yield the best results. There are excellent movies and documentaries, missions or travel opportunities and you may even know some friends and neighbors who would be willing to share their personal stories.
All in all, it is vital that parents teach their kids by modeling the power of gratitude in their lives as it is a wonderful resource for joy. Sometimes we make the mistake of depending on society, culture, schools or others to teach these important lessons. And sometimes our mistake is simply lacking the intentionality in our everyday lives to thoughtfully own and craft the messages and lessons we are giving our teens as their parents. It is not too late to own the impact you have on your teen’s gratitude – start this holiday season…start today!
1Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”