Gratitude is something that cannot be imposed

BY SARA DIMERMAN

Even though Thanksgiving Day is behind us, we can still reflect on what it means to be grateful. Thanks + giving = Thanksgiving. Time to reflect on what you’ve been given and to give thanks back. That’s the idea anyway but gratitude isn’t something that can be imposed.

Children are born not wanting more than to be loved, given nourishment, kept safe and warm. Most parents do a wonderful job of meeting these needs and our children’s genuine gratitude is reflected in their loving hugs, smiles and giggles. As they grow and are exposed to other influencers, they begin looking beyond their needs into the world of wants. And if you’re anything like most parents wanting to keep your children smiling and loving, you may give in to many of their gimmes. You may even over indulge them. Fast forward to a frightening awakening – you begin to see your children as spoiled brats. Never satisfied with what they have, always wanting bigger and better, wanting what they say all the other kids in the neighbourhood have and punishing you by keeping their distance when they don’t get what they want the minute they want it. But wait a minute – are they to blame? Don’t we have to take responsibility for creating this monster? With the best of intentions – who can blame us for wanting to be loved – our children have been shown how not to be satisfied with what they have by getting too much and too often. With so much at their disposal, things lose their meaning. Not just material things, but even the valuable time and effort we give of ourselves.

Just following our direction to say ‘thank you’ doesn’t guarantee our children truly are. However, a genuine feeling of gratefulness will generally lead to growing up happier. Feeling grateful for what they have affects their overall sense of well being. Looking around and feeling a sense of gratitude for what surrounds them in the present is the best ‘present’ of all. Feeling grateful for being able to afford certain luxuries, for every day simple acts such as being able to reach into the fridge for food or switching on the furnace to keep warm are very important.

So, what’s a parent to do? If your child spends more time nagging for something than she does enjoying it once it’s received, is it too late to reverse the situation? No. Harder maybe, but not impossible. The trick is not to go from all to nothing. Once you’ve identified the problem, work at changing things gradually. Next birthday or holiday, instead of buying lots of gifts, think of buying less items that are not so extravagant. Consider purchasing or creating an experience that you can enjoy as a family instead.

As well, make sure that you are modelling appreciation for what you have too. Say what you are grateful for out loud – your child’s initiative for putting his dish in the dishwasher, a loving family, the ability to afford a warm pair of winter boots. Don’t lecture about starving children in Africa but create opportunities for your child to see people in less fortunate positions. Stop to speak to a homeless person on the street. He or she may not be so scary after all. Your child may learn a whole lot from this stranger without your having to say anything.

The bottom line is the more we give, the more our children want. The more they want, the less grateful they are for what they have. So, the next time you feel guilty about not giving into a want, consider that you’re doing your child a favour.

Sara Dimerman has been a therapist and educator for over twenty years. She is one of North America’s most trusted parenting and relationship experts and the author of three books – Am I A Normal Parent?, Character Is the Key and a book for couples – How can I be your Lover when I’m too Busy being your Mother? Visit www.helpmesara.com.

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