Gratitude: Let’s Follow Pollyanna’s Lead
Pollyanna gets a bad rap, and I always want to come to her defense. I know she is a fictional character, but she has been one of my favorite people since the first time I saw the classic Disney movie as a child. I didn’t consider her to be excessively or blindly optimistic, as “Pollyanna Syndrome” is defined by psychologists. (Yes, there is an actual syndrome named after her.) In fact, I admired her determination — and discipline — to look for the good in the midst of bad circumstances.
The girl had lost both of her parents, yet she faced moving to a new town and living with a relative she didn’t know, with optimism. She was given a bedroom in the attic, but she was thankful to have her own room with a soft bed and a window. She had been taught to play the “Glad Game,” in which she purposely chose to name something to be glad about in any situation. In her new town, she challenged other people to look for the good in their own circumstances, too, but she also wasn’t shy in calling people out when they were being selfish, self-centered, or mean.
You know who taught Pollyanna to play the “Glad Game?” Her father. As a missionary, he had very little money, and, as a missionary, he had learned to live by faith and gratitude. And he had trained his daughter to do the same. Though his death took him physically away from her, the lessons he taught remained with her.
Parents, it is our responsibility to guide our children in their perspectives when they are young. We teach them how to view the world and the people in it. We guide them with our words, actions, and examples. In a world where negativity and cynicism often reign, let’s train our kids to be on the lookout for what is good and right. There are steps we can take to help cultivate gratitude in our children, causing it to become more natural for them.
Get a New Perspective
When our kids are struggling with feelings of entitlement or ingratitude, we can help them by getting a new perspective. While comparison can be the thief of joy, it can also be an eye-opener. When we expose our kids to seeing how people live in other parts of the world (or even in our own state), we can help them see that they have access to the basic necessities of life that many others do not. We don’t do this to make them feel guilty; we do this to make them aware. Reality checks are important for all of us!
Say the Words
Most parents teach their children to say, “Thank you,” when they are given a gift, but it’s just as important to teach them to be thankful for common, everyday occurrences, too. Let’s urge our kids to make it a habit to thank their teachers, coaches, bus drivers, cashiers at stores, servers at restaurants, or anybody else who helps them in any way. Let’s also encourage this habit in our homes (which is often harder to do) by thanking each other for helping and contributing to the family. Remember that we lead by example!
Put It into Practice
Once we initially teach our kids to look outside of themselves, we need to encourage them to put it into practice on a regular basis. When we are out and about together, let’s point out things to be thankful for and ask our kids to do the same. Let’s look for the good in the midst of the bad. Let’s be gracious and kind when others around us are being the opposite. These choices can become a habit, and the habit can become a lifestyle. A lifestyle of gladness and gratitude sounds like a good one!
November typically reminds us to stop and reflect on all that we have to be thankful for in our lives, but let’s not isolate the sentiment to a day or a month. Gratitude doesn’t always come easily or naturally, but it can be cultivated and learned. And the more we help our kids put it into practice, the more likely it is to become a discipline for them.
Oh, and if someone calls you or your child a “Pollyanna,” take it as a compliment instead of an insult. Optimism is something the world can use more of right now.
Carrie Bevell Partridge highly recommends watching Pollyanna together as a family. Read more from Carrie at carriebevellpartridge.com, where she writes words of encouragement and support for marriage and family. Carrie is also in the process of writing a book on practical ways to seize teachable moments with your kids.