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Great Gratitude: Parenting Thankful Children

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Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don’t know something
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations
Because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge
Because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you’re tired and weary
Because it means you’ve made a difference.

It is easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are also thankful for the setbacks.

GRATITUDE can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles and they can become your blessings.

Author Unknown

The poem above illustrates an important concept – that gratitude or thankfulness can change our lives in many positive ways. Research shows that children can learn to say “please” and “thank you” from the age of eighteen months; however, true gratitude and appreciation takes time to grow and blossom. Experts say that parents can feel successful if they raise adults who embody the grateful spirit. And, gratitude is more than just saying “please” and “thank you.” In fact, recent studies show that grateful people are happier, more resilient, and less depressed. They also have higher self-esteem and better relationships. It is a way of life, and a positive legacy to leave our children.

How can we raise children who will eventually appreciate the positive things that life has to offer? While, of course, it is nice to think that thankfulness should come naturally to children, sometimes it does not work that way. Therefore, below, I have compiled a few tips that may help you gear your children towards the path of gratitude.

Set boundaries. Whether going into a supermarket, toy store or hardware store, explain to your child the purpose of your visit. Will you only be going in to get milk or is he allowed to pick out a snack of his choice? When children understand what to expect, they learn to appreciate the objects they receive. Conversely, if you tell your son that you are only going into the store for milk, but when he whines and screams, you buy him the bag of potato chips that he wants, you are teaching him that the payoff for whining and screaming is a gift. No true gratitude can grow from parents “giving in” to negative behavior.

Give and get. If your child has a growing list of all of the items he wants, let him know that he needs to come up with an equally long list of items that he wants to give. The items can be washing dishes, giving toys to tzedakah, or help a younger sibling with homework. This will help your child understand that material objects do not simply appear when he requests them. Rather, you work hard to be able to provide them for him. Accordingly, he will feel a sense of accomplishment when he earns the items he wants. This sets the wheels in motion for gratitude as he gets older.

Model gratitude. Your child is always watching you, even if you don’t notice. If you model gratitude, by saying “thank you” to the clerk in the grocery store and the car service driver, you are teaching him the proper way to act. In addition, when someone is particularly nice to you, after thanking him or her, you can point out the behavior to your child, “Wasn’t that man so helpful? He picked up all of the groceries that fell out of the bag.” Expressing gratitude yourself helps your child learn to feel it himself.

Volunteer. Perhaps the best way to get your child to feel grateful is to expose him to people from all different walks of life. Take him to a soup kitchen or get involved in bikur cholim. Not only will you be doing a mitzvah, you will both be growing as people. As your child develops, he will notice how much he has and learn to appreciate the wonderful things in his life.

Create gratitude journals. Dr. Michael McCullough, a professor of psychology and religious studies at the University of Miami, conducted a study in which he asked his subjects to write down four or five things that they were grateful for each day. In only two weeks, most subjects reported feeling happier. This study clearly underlines the idea that gratitude can be taught – simply and quickly.

Be a broken record. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself and ask your child to say, “PLEASE may I be excused from the table” or “PLEASE pass the ketchup.” Remind your children consistently to say “thank you” to you and to others when they receive gifts. This helps them understand that other people are doing something for them. With constant reminders, the phrasing will come naturally – and so will the gratitude.

Talk about tefillah. As Jewish people, we have a built in daily mechanism for expressing gratitude – prayer. Explain to your children that tefillah itself is a great way to say thank you to Hakodosh Baruch Hu for all the wonderful things in their lives.

Albert Einstein once said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Living your life with gratitude means that you don’t take for granted every time something good happens. Rather, you experience each new positive development in your life as a windfall – a new reason to say thank you.

About the Author: An acclaimed educator and education consultant, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation,, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@verizon.net. Visit her on the web at rifkaschonfeldsos.com.


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