With the fall and winter holidays just around the corner, it can be easy to get caught up in the "stuff" of the season. Halloween becomes a mad-grab for candy and treats, Thanksgiving is just another awkward family dinner. Hanukkah and Christmas? They've become just another opportunity for kids to feel entitled to gifts from others. Let's face it, our culture could use a little less entitlement. I don't want my kids thinking that it's okay to expect something material "just because"! And with my toddler finally old enough to understand more of what's going on, I'm a bit concerned with how to teach him to be grateful for what he has - and not just greedy for what he doesn't.
So how do I drive home the real substance of this season of gratitude? Yes, it's cheesy - but it's true! Gratitude is an attitude. Meaning, it's a choice we make; a choice that shapes our behaviors toward ourselves and others. When we prioritize thankfulness, the difficulties in our lives become easier to bear. In some cases, we might even be able to forget them for at least a moment. Hindsight always gives me a sense of gratefulness. I can clearly see how things could have taken a wrong turn, or how narrowly I avoided a moment of misfortune.
Can a 2-year-old toddler experience that same thankfulness? Is Shep able to see how bad things could have been? Heck, is he even able to see how great things are in the moment?!? Somebody tell me there's a child development psychologist out there with answers!
If parenting a toddler has taught me anything, it's that he will mimic my behavior. "Do what I say, not what I do," is the most useless phrase to a toddler. They are experts at repeating after us - words, actions, tics, routines. In that case, teaching my child to express gratitude starts with me. Shifting my own perspective to focus on the many blessings in my life is probably my best hope to teach him. And let's be honest: it's probably the best balm for my weary heart, too.
I'm committing to a habit of thankfulness for the month of October. Why October? Because it's one of my favorite months of the year. It's preparation for the obvious "thankful month" of November (Thanksgiving, natch). And because there's no time like the present.
Start The Day
It only took me thirty years, but I've finally accepted that the way I begin my morning will definitely set the tone for the rest of my day. Instead of waking up and feeling groggy and annoyed, I'm going to pause - take a breath - and smile. Research has shown that faking a smile actually produces the same chemical surge that real happiness evokes. Ok, look - I fully admit that I'm not going to have a perfect track record of this one. But I'm going to give it the ol' college try!
Write It Down
As soon as I stumble out of bed and headfirst into a cup of coffee, I'm going to journal. Nothing major, nothing lengthy. Just three specific things I'm grateful for. At the end of the day, I'll add three more. My guess is that soon enough I'll find it difficult to limit myself to just six blessings to count each day. One of my uncles has a studious journaling habit, and all I can think is that those journals are going to be such a sweet gift to his children long after he's left this realm. Maybe my grateful journals can be the same for my kids? A girl can hope.
Use My Words
Yes, I know - I just said I'd write my thoughts down. This time, I mean actually speaking my gratitude. Remember when I mentioned that kids are excellent at mimicking? My hope is that my toddler will hear me saying, "I really appreciate your helpfulness." "Thank you for holding the door for me!" "I'm so glad you're my friend." He'll say these things on his own someday, right?
What other ways can I express my own gratitude more consistently? How do you teach your toddler to give thanks? I'm open to suggestions! Find me on Twitter @pi3sugarpi3.