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Gratitude is learned at home

One of the main complaints people make about youth today is that they’re “entitled.” TikTok videos depict kids making ridiculous demands. “Karens” have become a social media staple, making a scene over what they or their children are “entitled” to. Based on the amount of attention it garners, it appears entitlement is undermining our society.

Calling bad behavior “entitlement” isn’t exactly accurate. Children are entitled to certain things. They’re entitled to the love and protection from their caregivers. They’re entitled to a safe place to live and the nourishment they need to grow. They’re entitled to a free, accessible public education. In a functional society, these are things that kids should absolutely be entitled to.

What most parents, including myself, hope for their children is that they will be grateful for and acknowledge what they have. That means being thankful for a gift, service, or opportunity given. It means understanding the difference between needs and wants, then appreciating when those needs and wants are met.

Being thankful is not just about good manners, either.

Gratitude is essential for mental health.

Hearing a “thank you” is not only nice, but it can be healing as well – healing for the receiver and healing for the giver.

Receiving gratitude can help someone struggling with self-worth change their narrative and shift their beliefs about their own value.

The practice of looking for things to be grateful for can positively alter the negative self-talk for those with depression, those who have a hard time seeing the point of living, and to find exceptions to the story they tell themselves about their lives.

How do we foster gratitude in our children?

By helping our children learn to look outside of themselves. One cannot be thankful for an act of service if one does not understand what the person serving has sacrificed. One cannot appreciate the gifts they receive without knowing others are not similarly blessed. This understanding requires empathy.

Here are three suggestions:

1. Learn by doing. In the past few years, my family has begun growing and processing more of our own food. Raising some of the plants and livestock we eat has helped us be more mindful of the time, resources, and energy that goes into feeding us. As a result, we are more thankful for the food we have and those who have worked so hard to get it to our table. Learning other basic skills, like cooking, laundry, or caring for others, makes it easier for kids to appreciate those who provide them with unseen but necessary service.

2. Read. Books are a great window into the lives of others. Reading allows kids a safe way to learn about others who lack life’s fundamental resources in a way that might not be possible or safe in person. Be sure to choose books written by marginalized groups, which ensures that the account is authentic and avoids harmful stereotypes.

3. Model gratitude. Parents, you are your child’s best teacher. Practice what you expect of them. Your behavior is much louder and more valuable to them than your words. Be thankful in your daily life. Tell your kids that you appreciate them. Be courteous and respectful to those serving you in public places. Be mindful of how you talk about others of lower status than you. Cultivate your empathy too. Be vulnerable, especially when you are uncomfortable or unsure, and show them how to be curious towards others.

Below are examples of children’s books that help share the lessons of understanding the perspectives of others, acts of kindness, gratitude, growth mindset, and hope.

Reading to your children brings the gift of connection, introduces topics through a story, and provides a guide on how to talk about these subjects too!

  • Home by Tonya Lippert – is about a family experiencing homelessness and poverty.

  • Lulu and The Hunger Monster by Erik Talken – is about hunger and food insecurity

  • Heartprints by P.K. Hallinan – ideas for children to give away small acts of kindness.

  • The World Needs More Purple People by Kristen Bell & Benjamin Hart – is about being a compassionate citizen

  • Y is for Yet by Shannon Anderson – is about growth mindset

  • Maybe by Kobi Yamada – about the potential in all of us

  • A Little Spot Books by Diane Alber

    • A Little Spot of Love

    • A Little Spot of Kindness

    • A Little Spot of Patience

    • A Little Spot of Giving

    • A Little Respectful Spot

    • A Little Thankful Spot

Whether instilling it in our children or encouraging it in ourselves, gratitude invigorates both the giver and the receiver. It helps relieve depression. It builds connections and makes family life a lot more satisfying.

by Ruyman Hernandez & Cary Hamilton

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