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Planting Seeds of Gratitude During a Difficult Spring

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Dr. Meg Meeker

This spring is different for everyone. Forced to stay inside most of the time, or at least close to home, it’s easy to miss the beauty of this season amid the fear and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But even though this is a difficult time for you and your family, you can still experience beauty and growth, even if it’s just inside your own home.

One thing that is essential right now to not only survive this time but to thrive is gratitude. Gratitude is one of the most important characteristics you can cultivate in your child, and now is an excellent opportunity to do so.

Gratitude doesn’t come naturally to our kids. This is why we have to teach our children to say thank you. They aren’t going to do it on their own. You probably know all too well how true this is, especially right now when you might be home all day and can hear your child’s complaints. Online school, not being able to see her friends, fighting with her siblings over who can use the laptop—your child has probably not expressed much gratitude lately.

This lack of gratitude isn’t really your child’s fault; it’s simply how children develop. We are wired to be egocentric, especially when we’re young. To children, it feels like the world revolves around them. Their needs are what they think of, not others’, so they don’t think to be grateful for what they have. This is why parents must intervene and teach their child gratitude.

A study done at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill found that gratitude is best instilled in kids as an experience in four parts: 

1. What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful

2. How we THINK about why we have been given those things

3. How we FEEL about the things we have been given

4. What we DO to express appreciation in return

These first three experiences are things you can talk through with your child by asking, “What are you thankful for today? How do you feel about these things you’re thankful for? Do you see them as gifts?” Asking key questions and teaching your child to notice what is around him will help him learn to give thanks on his own, rather than only when you tell him to say thank you

This will also teach him to be grateful for what he has at home, for his little brother, for you, for the internet, for time spent outside—the small things that are easily overlooked when life is not how it is today. This season is providing an incredibly unique opportunity to teach your child to be grateful for the little things.

The fourth experience listed above—what we do to express appreciation in turn—is the most crucial part of teaching our kids to be thankful. 

Instilling gratitude is done less by words than actions and experience. Expose your children to those who lack food or are sick or homeless. You may not be able to physically do this right now, as many shelters, food banks, and clinics are not allowing volunteers for safety purposes, but you can make monetary donations online, drop off food at your local food bank, or write letters and send care packages to healthcare providers who are on the frontlines of this pandemic.

Help is desperately needed right now, and it’s easy to give. As your child takes the focus off herself and considers how she can help someone else, she will start to feel more grateful for what she has.

Spring is a time of growth, not only in nature but in your own home. Use this extended time at home to cultivate gratitude in your child, and yourself. Not only will it make this period easier to manage for the entire family, but it will also instill an attitude of gratitude in your child that will last long past quarantine.

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