Entitlement is a real thing. Just this morning, one of my children which will remain nameless was running a little behind. To help her sibling, another one of my children put bread in the toaster for her. When my child who was running late came into the kitchen– I mentioned that their sibling had put in the bread for them. They retrieved the toast only to say, “Than–oh–I like my toast darker than that.” After the initial shock of hearing their statement wore off, I realized that the missing part of this equation was gratitude. Gratitude is the antidote for entitlement and is beyond powerful. In this case, it was easy to point out that I was grateful for a toaster button that could be pushed again and would result in darker toast and that I was grateful that a sibling cared enough to try and help them eat breakfast. Luckily this story ends well with my child apologizing to their sibling, saying thank you and all toast was buttered and no one ended up being late. However, it is amazing how fast we can go from being grateful to entitled. Here are seven strategies to help implement more gratitude in your kids and yourself.
Recognize the Source: When your child comes home from school with a smile on their face with a good grade on a report, it is easy to praise them for their efforts and celebrate in their joy. But there is one more acknowledgment that will help them cultivate gratitude in their lives and that is simply by helping them recognize an additional source of gratitude. So that means that they aren’t just grateful for the result of a good grade that maybe came from extra hard work that they put in but with one extra statement you can help them recognize invisible sources they wouldn’t automatically consider. This is simply done by an extra statement–“I am so thankful that we live in a place where you have the opportunity to learn and go to school.” This is a statement of an invisible source that aided in their success. It really doesn’t matter what the statement is–just as long as it is an additional one that will help them consider more sources in their life that they might feel gratitude for.
Show them by Example: It is very easy in the day to day of life that we become complacent. I heard a wise saying the other day: Imagine that today you only had what you expressed gratitude for yesterday. I know a lot of us would be left without a lot as we all have a natural tendency to become accustomed to things and we all develop entitlement–I don’t always express gratitude for hot water during a shower but I sure expect that it should be a hot shower when I turn on the water. It is much more natural to complain when you don’t have something than it is to express gratitude for something when you expect it. It’s also easy to fail to see how actions can be an expression of gratitude: For instance, when I leave, I try to make sure all the lights are off. My daughter asked me why I even cared once and I quickly responded that I’m thankful that your Dad works so hard to earn money so we can have electricity so I’m making sure all the lights are off when we leave. When my kids were able to recognize the connection between their actions being a way to show gratitude, they were much better at doing the “light checks”. Kids and really even adults can use help in recognizing examples of gratitude to help them to make the connections between how things come to be and that it is not just the magic of a light switch.
Create Rituals or Routines around Gratitude: Make gratitude an every day part of your life by associating it with something you do on a regular basis. A friend once told me how when she is folding laundry–a task that she despises– she thinks of things or attributes of each person as she is folding their clothes. I thought it was a neat idea and decided to do the same. I found that I looked forward to folding clothes and my love and patience for my kids on laundry day is often higher. Other examples of adding gratitude to your life routines could be talking about something you are grateful for while you are picking up or dropping off your kids to school or an activity. Discuss one thing you are grateful for during dinnertime. Prayer time is another routine time that they can express their gratitude on a regular basis.
Express it: This is often the most obvious strategy but one that really gets overlooked. It is difficult to express gratitude when we expect things but it doesn’t mean we should stop expressing our gratitude. It seems ridiculous to constantly repeat, “Thanks for putting on your seatbelt.” or “Thanks for putting away your laundry” when you have asked them it feels like a dozen times to do so. However, saying thank you and acknowledging the gratitude you feel when they complete a task is an absolute game changer. It can trigger your brain to feel more optimistic and it also positively affects your child to increase their motivation to complete those tasks that are sincerely acknowledged. Think about the last time someone told you thank you for a routine task “Thank you for dinner.” or “Thank you for putting gas in the car”. It makes a big difference and helps your kids to feel more gratitude even for the mundane and typical things we all do everyday.
Make a Gratitude Journal: Although there are benefits from just reciting things you are grateful for, their is actually proven evidence that writing them down makes a big difference. In fact, researchers at Indiana University and Harvard found that writing down three things everyday for 21 days increases your level of optimism and more importantly that this higher level of optimism lasts for 6 months. Take a moment and jot things down or even put them in the notes section of your phone and notice the lasting difference gratitude can make in your life.
The Silent Minute Technique: Mister Rogers was an advocate for what he called the silent minute. During this minute he would ask that you think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Whether they were near or far away or even in heaven, if they’ve loved you and encouraged you and wanted what was best in life for you he asked that you honor them and devote some thoughts to them during one silent minute. Imagine how grateful they must be that during your silent times you remember how important they are to you. You can even take this silent minute technique a step farther by taking a minute to do something in their honor to show them how grateful you are.
Remember the Beginnings. We are very visual people, so put things in your line of sight that help your kids and you feel gratitude and remember the gratitude that you have felt. Maybe it is putting up the homemade card your kids made for you in their office when they could barely write their letters, maybe it is a particular quote or saying about gratitude that you display in your home. One thing that helps me remember the beginnings and increases my gratitude is oranges. I have a great grandfather who was a farmer and in a tough year they were barely able to scrape enough money that the only gift my great grandfather got for Christmas that year was an orange. He was so grateful though for that orange that he ate the entire thing including the peel. This helps me put into perspective when Christmas gift giving and receiving gets out of hand. We all have a natural tendency to forget the beginnings and get accustomed to what we have now and remembering the beginnings–living in a one bedroom apartment or eating ramen noodles in college–helps us have gratitude for what we have now no matter what the quantities. “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” (Anonymous)
Bottom line, you cannot make someone else feel gratitude—feeling gratitude is a choice–but you can share the gratitude you feel and can inspire them to recognize and feel the gratitude in their own lives.
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