Is it just me, or does it feel like the “holiday season” actually begins in October? I mean, between dusting off fall décor and partaking in my fair share of pumpkin spice doughnuts, I’m spent by the time teachers start sending home “What I’m Thankful For” hand turkeys in November. But the gag is, I really am grateful; at the bottom of my kids’ fruit snack-filled hearts, I know they are, too. So, this year, I’m being intentional about the simple ways I can encourage gratitude in our home.
For the sake of transparency, I need you to know this change was brought on by a semi-low parenting moment earlier this year. Picture it…it’s a hot summer day in Columbus, 2017 (yep, this summer). I’m at Huntington Park for my kids’ first Clippers game. We had great seats, enjoyed ballpark food, and actually made it through the entire game. As we leave, my daughter said, “I want to go to a restaurant for dinner.” Yes, it seems so trivial now, but it really touched a nerve for me then. I didn’t get a “Thank you” or “You’re killing it this summer, mama.” None of that. I lost my cool for a minute and cued my usual mom-ologue about everything we did that day, the value of a dollar, the price of gas, walking uphill barefoot in the snow, everything.
I’m guessing they didn’t get it…partially because we did, indeed, go out to eat (hey, I was too tired to cook). That moment kept coming back to me as I wondered how to move from preaching gratitude in emotional moments to engaging in everyday moments of gratitude. I decided to focus on these four ways to naturally incorporate gratitude in our home:
- A grateful heart from the start. I want my children to have an “attitude of gratitude,” regardless of what someone does, or doesn’t do, for them. In that case, it’s silly to rattle off everything we do for them as parents, just to get a “thank you.” Toys and trips are wonderful, but the best of what I can give them isn’t tangible: love, protection, confidence, etc. They need to understand those, alone, deserve their gratitude, even if we don’t have the means or desire to give them something tangible.
- Grateful mommy, grateful daddy, grateful life. I’m not saying “Happy wife, happy life” doesn’t have its merits (Am I right?!), but it’s even better if my husband and I both model the gratitude we want to see our children express. Did I thank him for emptying the dishwasher? Did he thank me for making dinner? If your children are anything like mine, they may pick up on your actions more than anything you say during a tense moment.
- K.I.S.S. those compliments! I’m not saying words don’t matter, they TOTALLY do! So, when it comes to praising your children for the awesome things they do, I say, Keep It Specific, Silly (C’mon, I’d never call you “stupid!”). I don’t always get much of a reaction when I just say “thank you” to my children. On the flipside, when I say, ”Thank you so much for putting your shoes away the first time I asked,” it’s awesome to see their faces light up.
- Practice and positive reinforcement make perfect. Don’t get me wrong, my kids are incredibly kind, which makes it all the more difficult and critical that I help them understand why we all need to turn up the gratitude. Teaching them to be grateful will help frame the challenges and opportunities they’ll encounter the rest of their lives. Lasting change won’t happen overnight, but it’s encouraging to see the progress we’ve made just during the summer.
Whether your holiday season is starting now or next month, you’ll probably have plenty of opportunities to put these ideas into practice. Look, we all know, nothing tests a child’s gratitude, and your sanity, like not getting a (insert over-priced, sold-out toy here) for Christmas! I’m sure it’ll be a work in progress in my home; if you have something that works well in yours, *please* share the love! Thank you!