Janet Fox, Claesgens, Mark A. | 11/6/2007 8:43:35 PM
Thanksgiving offers families an opportunity to reflect on their many blessings. Youth, however, often take their blessings for granted. How can parents and educators teach young people an attitude of gratitude?
Gratitude is a perception — a way of looking at things, according to LSU AgCenter volunteer expert Dr. Janet Fox. Adults can teach youth gratitude by exposing them to a wide range of situations that shake up their way of thinking. Acquaintance with a homeless child can teach children to be grateful for their daily meals and a roof over their heads. Meeting a bed-ridden person can teach youth to be grateful for their mobility and ability to get outside.
Parents can teach their children to search for a silver lining in any unpleasant situation and to appreciate the windows of opportunity in their lives. If you notice your child turning a bad situation into a blessing, praise him or her for it.
"Those little – or maybe big – obstacles, which seem to block the way, can be golden gateways," Fox says, adding, "Our busy lives are not conducive to appreciating obstacles. We notice what is broken, what still needs to be done, what we want but don’t yet have."
To teach gratitude, the youth development expert recommends pausing occasionally from the hectic lifestyle. Pausing is an opportunity to learn.
One learning opportunity is game playing. Games can release hidden blessings that help family members bond and build values.
Another opportunity is role playing. By acting out a scenario, such as someone going out of their way for someone else, youth can feel what it means to be grateful. Even a negative example can help children feel what it’s like to have their kindness ignored.
Family traditions can be important ways to express gratitude. Whether it’s a speech at suppertime or having a thank-you section on the refrigerator, family traditions create an opportunity to reinforce an attitude of gratitude.
"Family rituals provide an important opportunity for children learn to express thanks," Fox says.
Children quickly learn a sense of gratitude by putting themselves in others’ shoes. A family could do without something for a couple of days, such as eating less or fasting, to find out what it’s like to be hungry. A family could go without television, the telephone, the Internet or video games to understand what others do without these resources. Such an experience could help everyone be a little more humble and grateful when these conveniences are restored.
Keeping a record of what to be thankful for is another way to learn gratitude. Some children may collect items or draw objects that represent the things they are grateful for. Others may keep a list of items they feel fortunate to have. Still others may keep journals in which they explore challenging situations from several points of view. Family members can keep track of their daily blessings and share them with one another.
Reading is another effective way to learn gratitude. Families can read books together that contain a message of thanksgiving. Afterward, family members can reflect on the message and share perspectives.
Families also can volunteer to help those in need. By supporting individuals who are experiencing a low point in their lives, whether financial or health-related, youth can appreciate the blessings they take for granted.
"Teaching gratitude takes a little extra effort and thought but can go a long way in teaching children the importance of being thankful and of expressing thanks in a sincere and meaningful way," Fox says.
For related family topics, click on the Family and Home link at the LSU AgCenter Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.