If you spend any time on the internet, you might notice common phrases used to describe the younger generation. I often laugh when I see young adults and kids categorized as innately entitled and ungrateful, as that has not been my experience working with children. That said, there are incredibly important traits that make for a healthy, happy and helpful character. These traits need help and encouragement to be built. Gratitude is one of those traits. Sometimes, kids are the best inadvertent teachers in the lesson of gratitude!
To have gratitude means to be grateful or thankful for what one has, physically and metaphorically. You can be grateful for a brand new set of Shopkins or have gratitude that you are able to put food on the table with relative ease. Part of being grateful is realizing that not everyone has the same privilege as you. In other words, you realize how fortunate you are by becoming aware of the ease with which you can survive by having access to necessities and by your ability to obtain and enjoy everyday luxuries that other people may not have. Kids understand this so quickly once exposed to the realities. They recognize that they feel gratitude for what they have and are able to do so because they can look around and discern that, unfortunately, life can be unfair to others.
Gratefulness must go beyond a mere feeling though. Gratitude is thankfulness in action. It is the part of us that goes out and seeks to make the playing field more equal. It shares, it helps, it listens, it seeks to eradicate inequality and it makes someone’s life better, in the best way it can. Easy ways to build this in kids is by helping them to recognize their privilege and encouraging them to empathize with others. Ask them questions about how they would feel if it were difficult for them to get around town because of a disability. Ask them what people could do to make it less difficult to move about town.
Take it a step further and act on the suggestions. When clearing your closet, get them thinking about the others who may need a warm jacket during the winter. Where could the coat that is too small for you go instead of the garbage? When their best friend is sad, encourage them to be good listeners. After dinner each night, go around the table and name one thing you are thankful for that day. You don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving once a year to do this activity.
You do not have to solve everyone’s problems in the world, but the first step to gratitude is to put yourself in the place of others. Long discussions, games and activities are great ways to begin the process. One game I use in my Kids Yoga classes is called “Orange You Grateful“. This is done by sitting in a circle. We pass an orange (or an orange ball) around the circle, using only our feet. As we take possession of the orange, we share what we are grateful for and then pass the orange around.
The best teacher in this case is the self. A guide is all that is needed. It can be an uncomfortable topic because it means we must recognize that unfairness exists even with our best efforts. However, part of gratitude means we are always trying to make the world a little bit brighter for our fellow humans so that they can enjoy it, too.
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