It happens: A teary round or two of “What are you most grateful for this year?” ends with a child slathered in gravy and pumpkin pie filling wrapped up in your arms while you thank the heavens/universe/parenting gods for getting such a good one.
Sure, he has marred the new hardwood floors by setting off the sparks on his scooter brakers up and down the front hall. And yes, she has no inside voice. Perhaps he sasses back…to the teacher. Don’t forget that their combined Christmas lists have 172 items they NEED. Oh, and occasionally they do terrorize the baby and dog and neighbor kid with glue stick light sabers. But that one precious moment when you heard, “I am most grateful for Mommy/Daddy/Granny/the earth/Ghandi”? That wiped the slate clean.
So how can you fill the dry-erase board of childhood full of more of these moments (and less of the terror, tantrums, back-talk and greed)? I am not the Guru of Gratitude, but I am pretty insistent that there will be time for kindness, thank yous and blessing counting just about every day (DAMMIT!). This takes practice and repetition and commitment to see these little rituals through eye rolls and other forms of small-person resistance. Here are some of our favorite ways of staying grateful long after the dog with glue-matted hair has licked up the last of the stuffing crumbs.
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Ask great questions 1 of 7Many nights, my son and I interview each other over dinner. It is one of my favorite rituals with him. We usually end up laughing hard and telling stories. Sometimes, we make videos of the Q & A on my phone. Other times, we write down the responses. Sometimes, we just are present in the moment and don't archive a single thing. I've not only learned all kinds of tiny new details about my own child, I've observed a fabulous outcome --during downtime with his friends, he asks them interview questions, too. Isn't hopeful to think of raising children who love to listen attentively to others? I think so.
Be a charitable chef 2 of 7Serving a meal in a soup kitchen or shelter is an experience that will stay with your kids into adulthood (I've never forgotten the time my family made up plates at a homeless center on Christmas Day -- and that was 30 years ago). You can also bring the gratitude lesson closer to home by baking cookies or stirring up soup for a family in need at your child's school. Deliver baskets of snacks to an elderly friend at the holidays. Or invite a new family in the neighborhood over for a welcome dinner. So long as it is with a helpful intention and your child puts a whisk or spatula to work, you can turn any meal into a lifelong memory for your family.
Send thank-you cards 3 of 7This is something I am a stickler about, as was my mother, and her mother, too. My son sighs and rolls his eyes every time he has to follow-up a birthday party or winter holiday with a stack of thank-you notes. But the look on my grandmother's face when she tells us she got it in the mail is reminder enough that it's worth pushing through the resistance. I do believe handwritten (or drawn) and mailed is the best way to go, but there are some great free apps (like Red Stamp) to whip up a thank-you e-card to send in a snap.
Purge. Pitch. Donate 4 of 7It's good for kids to really dig into the bins full of toys, books and crapola they stuff into their pockets just to take inventory of all the THINGS they have. Set a schedule to purge regularly (monthly, before holidays, three times a year) and write down goals for each kid (donate 20 stuffed animals, find 50 plastic junkie prizes to recycle, fill two trash bags). It's great to involve kids in the donation process (take them to the organization, explain where the stuff is going, have them list the items for tax purposed and toss it in the donation bin). It's also great to talk about how good it feels to release the things we no longer need or want and to offer them to those who do. They won't even realize they've cleaned their rooms in the process. Oh, and at our home, Santa can't deliver toys until 25 things have been donated to kids in need. It's his rule and we stick to it.
Leave kind notes 5 of 7Small gestures speak volumes. Teach your child by example to voice what is most appreciated that day. I like to leave notes in my son's lunchbox or stick them to the mirror for him to find when he brushes his teeth. To get the note system going both ways, leave your own post-it along with the rest of the pad and a pen. Write "YOUR TURN" or something similar so they know it's their shot at saying a quick thank you to someone else in the house. Collect them all in a gratitude hub -- the fridge, the back of a door, over a hole someone accidentally bore into the wall with a play hammer. If you feel super crafty, create a gratitude wreath from them all. Glue or tape the notes in a circle around a paper plate, curl the edges up slightly, cut a hole in the center and hang with a ribbon over the door.
Pray. Meditate. Talk to the universe 6 of 7No matter what faith your family is (if any), it can be a fulfilling ritual to speak aloud the hopes we have for other people. While kids may be squirmy now, spending time silently wishing others well is good practice for the whole family. To keep meditation simple for kids (and you), sit as still as you can with eyes closed, palms up, legs crossed and thoughts centered on one person you all know who is in need of some good energy. Even if it is for ten seconds, the power of that tiny bit of time resounds.
Keep gratitude scribbles 7 of 7Get Oprah on your kids by starting a family (or individual) gratitude journals. No need to keep an exhaustive diary or even to write words. Have children write a sentence about what they are grateful for today or this week. Pre-writers can draw a picture or put their mark in scribbles on the page. It is an exercise in compassion for them and creates a keepsake for you.
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