By Tracey Dowdy
Recently, a video of eight-year-old Jackson Champagne trick-or-treating with his sister and discovering an empty candy bowl on a neighbor’s porch went viral. On the homeowner’s doorbell camera, Jackson can be heard saying “Oh no, there ain’t no more candy.” But before you can say “Trick or treat,” Jackson does the opposite of what you may expect. Instead of pouting over the lack of treats, Jackson reaches into his own stash of candy to replenish the bowl. When asked why he simply replied he didn’t want other kids who walked up to the bowl to be sad.
We all hope to raise children who are more Jackson than Grinch, but that means teaching them gratitude and contentment every day. With Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, this is a great time to remind your children that a grateful heart is a happy heart.
Meri Wallace, “The Parenting Coach”, is a parenting expert, and a child and family therapist. She says, “It is important for you to understand that appreciation is an abstract concept, especially for young children. They are not so far from being babies, who by nature are focused on their desires and needs for their survival. With your guidance, as your children grow, they can develop the ability to value what they have. It is beneficial for kids to be able to do this for reasons other than building their character. Acknowledging and cherishing what you have, helps children to feel fulfilled and have happier lives. It also helps your kids to develop empathy for those who have less than they do.”
She recommends using these tools to help develop empathic, content, and grateful children.
- Read books about the origin of Thanksgiving and with themes surrounding thankfulness with your children. Take the time to talk about the stories to help them understand why we celebrate Thanksgiving and why being grateful for what they have is so important. This helps your children to see the holidays as more than just an elaborate family dinner.
- Include your children in the preparations. Have them make placemats, set the table, make a centerpiece, peel vegetables, or tell the story of the first Thanksgiving. Participating in the preparations helps them see the amount of work others put into preparing dinner, your home, and teaches the concept of showing love and care through serving others.
- At dinner, make going around the table and naming at least one thing they are grateful for a family tradition. If you want to raise grateful kids, you need to model gratitude yourself.
- Contact local food banks and shelters and ask how you and your family can help. Consider neighbors, friends, or even local college students who may be on their own for the holiday and invite them to share dinner with your family.
- Find ways to demonstrate gratitude every day. While my daughters were growing up we regularly asked each other “Best thing/Worst thing” as a conversation starter when they got home from school. We still do it today even though they are adults, and we use it as a chance to talk about what we’re grateful for in our day and look for ways to turn our “worst” thing into a life lesson.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.