Shabbat Shalom! Our next couple of Fridays may find us thinking not only of Shabbat - but also of the rapidly-approaching Thanksgiving holiday. (How has the time passed so quickly?) In addition to figuring out the best way to carve a turkey and if it's worth it to make our mashed potatoes from scratch (totally), many of us are also considering the meaning of the holiday - which, with its themes of gratitude and friendship, so beautifully reflects some of our highest Jewish values. How can we deepen these values within our family - and, as the secular world plans Black Friday sales and assails our kids with endless advertisements for toys and gadgets, how can we instill a sense of gratitude in our children and inspire them to give thanks?
One of my favorite chapters from my book Sacred Parenting dealt with this very topic, and it was the most popular excerpt published in the parenting magazine I write for in my home city. I also spoke about the issue in one of my appearances on the syndicated television talk show Daytime. I'll post those links below - but here are a few tips, culled from Judaism and from everyday experience, on raising a grateful child:
1. It's okay to want things. Everybody wants, right? And just wanting something more than they have doesn't intrinsically make our kids ungrateful, any more than wishing we had a bigger house or a nicer car makes us automatically thankless for the blessings we enjoy. When our kids admire something they see in a store, or say they'd like something that's been advertised on TV, we don't need to get defensive or remind them they already have plenty of stuff; we can mirror their enthusiasm and agree that the item looks really cool.
2. But... But of course it may not stop there. When our children's desire for more than they have, or more than we feel is possible or appropriate, is too strong, it hurts everyone. It hurts our kids because they aren’t taking pleasure in what they have already. And it hurts us because we feel unappreciated and inadequate. And that means it's time to change this dynamic.
3. Give them less. It may seem counterintuitive, but the best way to enable our kids to find happiness in what they have – is to give them less. If you’ve spent the day at the zoo, skip the gift shop. If you’re going out for ice cream, skip the topping. If you've bought your child some great new shoes, let them wait for another day to look at jeans. Our job is not to give our children everything they want, but to teach them to enjoy what they have.
4. Teach the language of gratitude. This process can begin as soon as our children begin to speak. Teach young children to say “more, please” rather than simply “more,” for example. When you ask your child if she wants something, prompt her to answer politely: “Which yogurt would you like – strawberry please or blueberry please?” or “Do you want help climbing into your carseat, yes please or no thank you?” Before long these responses will become automatic. If your child is older, gently but firmly remind him to say "please" and "thank you" when making a request - and be sure to use those same words when you speak to him as well.
5. Know what your child really needs. It’s easy to fall into the pattern of turning what should be occasional indulgences into regular expectations: buying a toy whenever you take your young child to the supermarket, for example, or offering on older child payment for good grades or completed chores. Replace these material acquisitions with something much more precious: Time spent together. Instead of rewarding good behavior at the store with a toy, treat your child to an extra story or a session of painting when you get home. Instead of handing your kid five dollars, take her to the movies or out for a (decaf) latte. You’ll both enjoy the togetherness – and you’ll be teaching your child what should be valued most.
6. Help others. No child is too young to help someone else. Whether it’s brightening the day of nursing home residents with a visit, decorating cookies for local firefighters, making cards for hospitalized patients or our nation’s soldiers, organizing a food drive in the neighborhood, holding a bake sale or selling Rainbow Loom bracelets to raise money for worthy causes, or regularly taking out the trash for an elderly neighbor, our kids learn to appreciate what they have by feeling empowered to help those who have less.
7. Thank God. Did you know Jews are commanded to recite 100 blessings a day? It may sound overwhelming - until we remember that Jewish tradition provides blessings for us to recite not only upon awakening and going to bed, not only before and after meals - but also for spotting a rainbow, hearing a clap of thunder, seeing an especially smart or beautiful person, being reunited with a friend after 30 days, beholding the ocean, even going to the bathroom! Renewing our appreciation for the everyday blessings we enjoy - and teaching our children to give thanks for food, nature, and the people around them - will fill our hearts, and our families, with abundant gratitude.
And here are the promised links:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqZmidOZAHE for my TV appearance