Teaching the attitude of gratitude

The simplest way to feel like you have everything going for you is through plain old gratitude. Think of all the old sayings like, "count your blessings," "it could be worse," or "stop and smell the roses,"  the point is the same. We're happier with what we have when we're thankful for it. Noticing the good in life makes it mean more. It makes sense that our children will feel the same way, but we have to teach them how.

I've always liked that Thanksgiving comes before Christmas. Thanksgiving is a time to look over the year and give thanks for the good, be it health, success, or just surviving a bad year, but especially for our families and friends. We all have so much to be glad for in our lives, no matter what's gone wrong. Giving thanks for the good comes first, and a month later, we put the year to bed by giving and receiving those lovely gifts to celebrate each others' love and friendship. Whether you're religious or not, there's so much value in teaching your children thankfulness and giving.

How do we teach kids to be gracious?  Parents may secretly wonder -- is it bad that my child seems so greedy? Well, actually it's natural for them to want more. Our ancestors who competed to fill basic needs probably survived because they had that instinct to grab what they wanted, regardless of what anyone else got. But we don't need to do that anymore. We can survive without grabbing everything we see. We have to learn not to let that greedy instinct win over. And we learn it from each other. Just like learning to share, and hug, and cooperate.

We have to be taught to be happy with what we have. It's a skill, just like learning how to open a bottle. When you know how to take a moment to be glad for what you have, you'll find you're happier with your life. Our children pick up our attitudes. If you're happy with what life gives you, that is what your children will learn.

We also have to create moments where gratitude can be taught. Thank-you notes to Grandma are a good example. Reminders to say thank you to those who do nice things are good, too. But we also need to show kids the art of being thankful, by thanking them, too. Respecting our child's little gifts during a day helps them learn to respect your gifts of love, concern, care, and teaching.

Gratitude is a skill we need to model, and to require from our kids. Saying thank you may feel like an obligation, it may even seem a little insincere, but that doesn't mean it's ok to leave it out of your child's upbringing. Like saying "I'm sorry," saying thank you may seem like just a bunch of words to the child at first. Don't worry, the feelings will come, too.You can help your child think about these little acts by asking them, "how do you feel when..." By doing this you're helping them slowly learn insight into other people's feelings. That's the first step toward being a good friend.

You can help your child feel abundance in life by discussing everyday events to highlight the good. Try sitting with your child for a few moments, maybe before dinner, or during their bedtime ritual. Talk about the good things that have happened. Ask them, what are they happy for? Children may name stuffed animals, or a grandparent, or a friend at school. Encourage them to think of the humbler things: a warm comfy bed, a good dinner, with breakfast on its way in the morning. Tell them the humble things you're grateful for. This way you're making thankfulness a daily part of life. They (and you) will begin to look at their day for examples of things to be grateful for.

That's the real secret to a sense of abundance. You don't need a lot of stuff to feel you have all you need, or to be happy, you just need to appreciate what you have. And children who learn this lesson will be able to draw strength from it throughout their lives.


Training doesn't mean or need punishment

There's a real solution to childhood behavior problems, and it does start with you, the grownup.  It doesn't mean you have to put MORE time into figuring out good punishments that fit the crime. You don't even need stickers or rewards. All you need is to teach your child to think for himself. Even at an early age you can help children learn to choose appropriate behaviors. They need your guidance and encouragement far more than they need a lollypop or a time out. A practical example:
--A teacher told me that she had one child who acted out constantly during rug time. She tried time outs, admonishments, promises-- everything seemed to backfire one way or another, and the child seemed to enjoy the negative attention. Worse, other kids noticed he was getting treated differently and some even tried misbehaving themselves.

Our solution? We suggested asking the child to "take care of" a particular stuffed animal during rug time, to make sure the toy "could see" the teacher and "hear" her talk. At the beginning there was some lingering noise & distracting behavior, so we advised the teacher to completely ignore it, no matter how hard it got. She would perform the same ritual at rug time, giving the child the toy, reminding him to care for it and that x or y distraction made it hard for the animal to hear or pay attention. Over a few days the behavior peaked and then ebbed; but most days the child would settle down, and eventually grew into the habit of babysitting the bright green stuffed alligator he named Chewy.

Where did this idea come from? Adler's disciples in the positive discipline camp recommend using responsibility to cure misbehavior. This can be any kind of task, including asking the child to pay attention to how many times you raise your hand while you're talking and let you know at the end of the talk; to cleaning the erasers after class, to helping you change the dates on the calendar board. For parents, it can include holding baby sister's bottle or toy, simple chores like setting the table, or even organizing the pans on the bottom shelf. For very young children just "helping" you pick up a toy and "put it to bed" when playtime is over, can be an excellent way of being appreciated and recognized for cooperation skills and neatness.

Why does it work? Children often misbehave simply because they need to feel they matter. They want to belong, and sometimes choose the wrong method of getting attention and participating in the flow of the day. Offering them a positive way to engage with you, their siblings, or their class gives them ownership of their role within it, and pride in the positive outcomes.


The Mindful Parent.

We can't control every thought that pops into our heads. But we can choose which ones we focus on and follow, and which we let go. So often parents complain about the annoying or frustrating parts of parenting, and yes, no child is perfect, any more than any parent is. Let yourself see the positive aspect of every interaction, even the struggles. Your child is learning, at each point of interaction, for better or worse. What are you teaching? There may not be a solid gain you can point to after a particular conflict. But rest assured, you are getting to know who your child is, and who you are, at every turn. What are you learning?

Can you teach yourself to appreciate the small successes, rather than feel you have lost if you don't get your way? The goal of parenting can be improvement, it can't be perfection.


Plan wisely!

50 wise suggestions for dads of daughters

They're not really rules, as the writer calls them, but they are very good ideas. Children need to know that they are loved and valued. Your relationship with them is the yardstick they'll use to choose friends and partners through life. They learn from you how to walk the path of life, which forks to take, and which to avoid. When you're thinking of having children, people will tell you "it's an eighteen year commitment!" But it's not. It's forever. You didn't know who you would be as a parent until you had a child. Now, you have a choice every day to make yourself a better person, not just for yourself, but for that bright shining face looking up at you in the morning. 


Why it's important to teach your kids self-control.

In Southern California, a mother and her daughters are rear ended by a truck, and pushed over the edge of a bridge, their mangled car dangling by its own wreckage over a ravine.
(Story here.)  Luckily they were rescued, and both girls, an eleven year old and an eleven month old, were fine.

As you watch the clip and realize how hard it must be for the mom to keep her cool, trapped with her daughters, imagine what it must have been like for her 11 year old.  Kids who have spent their childhoods practicing making smart choices, thinking for themselves, problem solving for the best solutions, won't need to have mom tell them repeatedly what to do. They're used to active listening, managing their emotions, cooperating and keeping their cool. No matter what your parenting style, teaching kids to work things out instead of just obeying or reacting, will serve them well throughout their lives. And it'll form the basis of a great relationship with you.

Engaged parents, happy babies

Engaged parents, happy babies