Gratitude, as defined by Harvard Medical School, is “a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives … As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power”. Thus gratitude is more than saying the formal “Thank you”: it is an emotion, an attitude and like all the healthy behavioural/thinking patterns, gratitude must be learned from an early age.
The Challenges of the Generation of Consumerism
Compared to the previous generations, we live in times where we can have anything we wish and be wherever we want, whether it is for practical purposes or simply for our own entertainment.
Yet, this progress comes at the expense of our children’s emotional stability. In a society that is constantly bombarded with adverts and marketing, the desire of owning and consuming increases at an alarming speed amongst adolescents.
A possible plausible explanation is given by the consumer research data which suggests that children experience a decline in self-esteem during their early adolescence and consequently, they are likely to use material possessions as a coping strategy. This may be the effect of peer pressure and the social standardized concept of beauty and self-confidence, often making children feel inadequate, depressed and unhappy with themselves or their lives.
An alternate cause for the uncontrolled desire of consumerism among children is the lack of parental involvement. And here the opinions are divided. Due to the economic pressure, families are forced to work longer hours in order to maintain a decent financial stability. This leaves parents with little time to dedicate to their offspring, who subsequently remain exposed to the influence of external factors.
As such, parents tend to accuse the big corporations of taking advantage of their influence on children, of the excessive marketing and the superficial responsibility of ad regulations.
Some governments have already banned advertising during children’s prime time (i.e Sweden since 1991), while the European Union aims to develop the most effective consumer policies in order to protect children and public health.
On the other hand, psychologists claim that parents are the mediators between their children and the environment, being the major influential factor in children’s choices.
It All Starts In The Family
It has been demonstrated throughout the decades, that family is the closest environmental element in which a child develops, a great source of knowledge and a shaper of habits. Thus, the first example of gratitude must come from you as a parent through your actions and attitudes.
Although you think that your children may not listen or hear when you talk, they actually do and will imitate your vocabulary, behaviour and attitude. If you had a stressful day at work or you struggle to pay your mortgage, make sure you do not discuss these matters around your children and instead discuss your achievements, appraise those who have helped you and value what you already own.
Secondly, be mindful of your lifestyle as it may become a measure of happiness for your children. Avoid extravagance and luxury as they do not necessarily add quality to your life. Although you may feel the urge to keep up with the trends, it is essential to think of your needs when you purchase goods. Are they what you really need now or are they just a desire to satisfy your ego? Adjusting your lifestyle does not mean you will have to lower your standards, but instead, it means that you will choose significance and quality over variety and trends.
Thirdly and most importantly, spend quality time with your children no matter how tired you may be, as time is the most precious thing you can give them. Do not allow the trouble of life to keep you away from the little ones as you are their guide and if you want them to develop into adults with principles and values, you will need to be an active parent. Giving them an endless number of toys and designer labels does not make you a caring parent. Instead, it will teach your children that happiness has a name and a price.
4 Effective Ways to Teach Gratitude
Besides being yourself an example, there are 4 methods through which you can teach your children how to be thankful for what they have and who they are:
1) Set Goals Before Buying Gifts
You and your spouse may earn enough to give your child everything you have not had when you were his/her age. In the end, every parent wants to create the best comfort for their children, but while the reason behind this action is genuine, you actually deprive the child of learning two important principles: patience & value of work.
Thus, next time your child tells you that s/he wants a toy or the newest video game, set a goal such as obtaining a good grade in the upcoming exam, save money, take part in one of the family activities, etc. This way, the child learns that things do not always happen when s/he wants. It also prepares him/her for the challenges s/he will meet as an adult, not to mention that the gift will be more appreciated.
When we have everything we want, we forget that there are many others who live in precarious conditions and we end up taking for granted even the simplest things. Take your time to spend a few hours with your child in a charitable activity so s/he can develop empathy towards the less fortunate people, but also appreciate the hard work behind the lifestyle you offer them.
3) List the Things You are Grateful For
No matter how challenging a week must have been, there were surely some achievements; even if the only achievement was to go through the days. You survived, you are healthy, you are able to put meals on the table & you have the family by your side.
Similarly, help your child list the things they are grateful for and help them focus their attention on what they already have before thinking of what they want.
4) Invest in Your Child’s Qualities
Children need love in order to become confident and when they do not receive it from their families, they will be affected by every mean comment about their looks or qualities. Discover your child’s personality, understand his/her strengths and weaknesses so you can help her/him build the emotional security they need without depending on other people’s appraisal.
Why Being Grateful?
Studies show that children who are more grateful are less stressed, are able to maintain healthier relationships, are more empathic and take challenges with more optimism.
As a loving parent, one must think of the long-term happiness and emotional health of the child. Before spoiling the child with the best, teach him/her to find the best in what they have. Life is unpredictable and there will be challenges s/he will have to face alone, so if plans will not always have the outcome s/he expects, the child will be exposed to depression and disappointment.
“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practising gratitude”-Brene Brown