With Thanksgiving coming up, I’ve been thinking about how I can better instill a sense of gratitude and appreciation with my own teen daughters.
Any mom’s greatest wish for their kids is for them to grow up to be a happy and healthy human beings. I believe that developing a deep, consistent understanding and practice of appreciation is a great way to start with that.
Gratitude is a state of mind. We create our own happiness, by golly, and a consistent feeling of gratitude allows us to remain positive and uplifted. It improves self-esteem and optimism.
In fact, science shows that gratitude is extremely healthy for us. According to Dr. Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis, practicing gratitude leads to 28 percent lower levels of perceived stress… and a whole slew of other health benefits, including better sleep and lower blood pressure.
It also leads to greater success and happiness. Many successful people in the world have a gratitude practice; Oprah Winfrey, Tim Ferriss, Daymond John and Emma Watson are among them.
And I’m all about my kids being successful adults. I’ll bet you feel the same way about your own.
Let’s dive in, then, to discovering ways to teach your kids how to develop that sense of gratitude and appreciation:
1| Teach your kids to value work and responsibility.
It’s natural for us to want to spoil our kids. We want them to experience great things in life, right? And I’m all for showing our teens how great being on this planet can be.
But selfishness and entitlement can creep in quickly if we do everything for our kids. Or buy them everything they want. Or let them do anything their hearts desire.
I started down this road with my girls, until I realized what kind of adults they would turn out to be if I didn’t change the situation quickly. Attitudes were NOT in the realm of gratitude any more, and their levels of expectation outgrew my desire to provide all-the-things for them.
And so I stopped. Cold-Thanksgiving-turkey.
Oh, you need clothes to wear to school? Do your laundry. You’re hungry? Making yourself dinner would be a great idea.
My teens started to realize I wasn’t going to do everything for them anymore. Now when I DO do things for them, I get crazy thank-yous. They appreciate it now. They know what kind of work and money it takes to accomplish these things.
So, consider having your teen buy their own gas, contribute daily to household chores or pay for part of their cell phone.
I promise they’ll develop a healthy appreciation for what all of it takes.
2| Show how to be in service to others.
“It’s better to give than receive” truly holds some powerful meaning. It feels so very good to help others out.
Teenagers are notoriously selfish creatures. And when you think about it, being in service to others is ultimately a pretty selfish act – and that’s perfectly ok.
When your teen serves others, it provides the opportunity to see beyond herself. She sees herself as part of a larger community rather than the center of her own world.
Gratitude comes in here in the form of the appreciation your teenager receives from those she helps. And then she, in turn, will feel grateful for the experience of helping and the sense of connection she feels to others.
When teens have the opportunity to help someone else, they develop an understanding that they, themselves, matter. It helps them to foster their own sense of purpose, which leads to success and a healthy sense of self-esteem.
Help your teen about issues or problems that are important to her. Help her to brainstorm ways to do something about it by volunteering or fundraising.
And consider being generous together. Work as a family to serve others in some capacity.
That can be picking through up trash in a park. Or giving a blanket and food to a homeless person. Show how paying for the coffee of the guy behind you in line affects his – and your – day.
It feels so good to be in service of others and gives a sense of appreciation for what we already have.
3| Be a consistent model of gratitude.
Be honest with me right now – are you a complainer? Even some of the time? If so, your kids are picking up on it. They’re thinking this is a “normal” reaction to situations and conditions.
It may be normal, but it certainly isn’t optimal.
At the risk of seeming Polly Anna here, I’m just gonna say it: Instead of seeing what’s wrong with things (politics, social issues, gossip), look for the silver linings in all things. I promise they’re there if you try hard enough to see them. Find appreciation.
If you can’t find the good in something, don’t keep your attention on it.
Model gratitude in all things so that your teenager realizes a new normal.
Here are a few other ideas for fostering your own sense of gratitude and being an example for your kids that I’ve instituted in my own life:
- Appreciate aloud what your teenagers do every day, even if it’s something their “supposed” to be doing.
- Write daily in a gratitude journal. Nothing fancy needed here, but I really like The Five-Minute Journal.
- Say thank you often.
- Apologize when appropriate.
- Give out compliments. (Meaningful ones.)
- Make eye contact with others and listen intently.
- Perform random acts of kindness.
- Tip well for great service.
- Show off others’ strengths and gifts.
- Write handwritten thank you notes.
Feeling gratitude and thankfulness are emotional muscles. Start today to intentionally develop these skills in yourself to help your teen become an appreciative, grateful and (ultimately) successful young adult.
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