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Gratefulness: Teach Your Children to Look Beyond Themselves

Gratefulness: Teach Your Children to Look Beyond Themselves

An attitude of thankfulness is sometimes hard to find in our increasingly me-centered society. Attitudes of selfishness and entitlement seem to run rampant, while attitudes of service and gratefulness are often squashed or might even be considered to be weak.

So how do we cultivate thankfulness in our children’s lives—and even our own—in the infertile soil of our selfish society?

It’s not all about me.

This is a good place to start. From the time your children are born, do all that you can to keep themfrom believing that the world revolves around them, that everything and everyone is here just for them. If your children call the shots around your house, you are merely enforcing their self-centeredness. If your children get everything they want, you are simply fueling their selfishness. It’s not easy, but you must do all that you can to fight against our society’s “It’s all about me” mentality. Letting your children be disappointed from time to time does not make you a bad parent; it actually makes you a good one. And teaching them to think beyond themselves is a great way to begin cultivating an attitude of gratefulness.

Get a new perspective.

Children need to be shown how different people live throughout the world or even throughout their city. They need to know that not everyone has all the food, clothing, and shelter they need. They need to see that people have to work for the things they want and that things aren’t just given to them automatically. Honestly, we adults often need to be reminded of these facts, too. We all benefit from gaining new perspectives. Although we’re taught not to compare ourselves to others, I think it’s actually a good thing to compare our situations to those of people less fortunate than we are, if it is done in the right spirit. It helps us realize just how blessed we are to have our basic needs met and encourages us to share our abundance with other people.

Serve others.

There is no greater way to combat self-centeredness than to serve other people. Teaching your children to look for ways to meet other people’s needs is one of the best tools with which you can equip them for life. And this can be taught from a very early age. Involve your children in acts of service—taking a meal to someone who is sick; holding the door for someone; making a picture or writing a note to someone who needs cheering up; picking flowers for someone “just because”; doing yard work for an elderly neighbor; or a host of other acts of service. In fact, encouraging your children to come up with their own ideas for ways to serve others is a wonderful way to increase their awareness and motivate them to make service a life-long habit. As your children (and you) continue to serve the people around you, you will find yourselves becoming more grateful for your family, your friends,your health, your possessions, and many other things. You will also become more aware—and, therefore, more grateful—when others take the time to serve you.

 

Make thankfulness a common topic of conversation.

How often do you and your children discuss things for which you are thankful? If you can only picture this conversation happening around a table spread with turkey, dressing, and pumpkin pie, you will want to consider increasing the frequency of this particular dialogue. This doesn’t mean you have to formally go around the circle every day and name something you’re each thankful for (though you could); instead, practice making thankfulness part of your normal, daily chatter. An easy way to start is by simply saying “thank you” to each other at home. Thank one another for helping with the housework, for helping you get where you need to be on time, for playing nicely together, for doing what they were told to do the first time and without complaint, or for many other things. These two words are very meaningful; we all like to hear them. In addition to thanking each other, it’s also good to look for things and circumstances throughout everyday life for which you can be thankful. And then say it out loud!

Set a good example.

If you’ve been a parent for longer than a few months, you already know that children learn by example. If you have a negative attitude, your children will follow suit. Likewise, if you demonstrate a grateful attitude, they will follow this as well. So be the one to start conversations about thankfulness. Be the one who looks for ways to serve others. Be the one who always says, “Thank you.” Be the one to acknowledge how fortunate your family is. Be the one who generously gives to others. And be the one who says, “It is not all about me.” Your children will learn valuable lessons by your lead.

 

Don’t give in to the philosophy that says the three most important people in this world are me, myself, and I. And don’t let your children buy into it either. Teach them to be thankful for even the smallest of things. Lead them toward a deeper and more fulfilling life of gratitude, rather than a sense of entitlement. Each of you will be the better for it. As author and pastor Harry A. Ironside observed, “We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.”

This is a battle worth fighting. One where everyone wins.

Carrie Bevell Partridge is grateful for her husband and three children. They battle selfishness daily in their home in Ridgeland, MS.

Want to help your family think beyond themselves? Do some of these activities together.

  • Hold a children’s book drive in your neighborhood and then donate those books to an after school program for underprivileged children.

  • Rake and bag leaves in your neighbors’ yards (with their permission, of course).

  • Challenge each family member to give a sincere compliment to at least one stranger when you are at a store, restaurant, etc.

  • Gather clothes and shoes that are in good condition and donate them to a local shelter. Challenge each family member to give away at least one item that they especially love.

  • Take an “awareness drive” together as a family in some of the poorer areas of your city and discuss your observations.

  • Leave a generous tip and a thank-you note for your server at a restaurant. Be sure your kids write, decorate, and/or sign their names to the note.

  • Hold a pet food drive in your neighborhood and deliver the bounty to a local pet shelter.

  • Purchase and donate school supplies and uniforms to a school in a low-income area of your city.

  • Collect canned goods in your neighborhood and deliver them to a local food bank.

  • Host a cookie and hot chocolate party in your front yard. Invite your neighbors over to enjoy your hospitality just because. Be sure to involve your kids in the baking and preparation processes.

  • Participate in a giving project, such as Angel Tree or Operation Christmas Child. Give your children opportunities to earn money that they can then spend on gifts for underprivileged children.

  • Invite someone who doesn’t live near their family to join you for a Thanksgiving or Christmas feast.

  • Volunteer to serve at a local soup kitchen.

  • Bake cookies and make cards to hand-deliver to an assisted living home.

  • Hold a toy drive in your neighborhood and then deliver the toys to a children’s hospital. Ask if you and your children can personally deliver some of the toys to the patients.

  • Give your children opportunities to earn money that they can give toward purchasing chickens, ducks, goats, etc. through organizations such as World Vision. These animals provide both nutrition and extra income for families in third world countries.

 

About The Author

Carrie Partridge

Carrie Bevell Partridge grew up in Memphis, TN with her parents and four siblings. She attended Mississippi College, where she met her husband Kevin. They have been married for 20 years and have five children. They live in Ridgeland, MS. Carrie has written the “Growth Spurts” column and managed social media for Parents & Kids Magazine since 2011. You can read more of her work at carriebevellpartridge.com and Facebook.com/carriebevellpartridge.

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