I don’t believe there is a parent reading this article who doesn’t want their child to be happy. This is often our top priority in our parenting journey. We make so many choices and decisions based on what would make him or her happy. This can lead to us providing every gadget, game and experience we can afford, protecting them from every possible danger and hardship and jumping in to stand up for them whenever the going gets a bit tough.
However, this can all stand in the way of their happiness.
What makes us happy is a sense of appreciation, of achievement and of accomplishment. If we give our child everything he can think of or help him each step of the way we are in fact robbing him of the chance to be truly happy. We do know that one of the secrets of happy people is that they are filled with a sense of gratitude.
Gratitude is not something you can instil in a toddler or preschooler in the same way you can teach them to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Gratitude and generosity take time to develop. Don’t get disheartened when your trip to the toy store to buy a birthday present for a little friend goes horribly wrong because it turns out your five-year-old would much rather focus your attention on all the thing he or she would like to have.
Keep at it, involve your child in choosing presents for others, it will get better!
Share your delight in choosing something that would be really appreciated by the friend. Remember that you are your child’s model. If your child sees the pleasure you get from doing something that someone else will appreciate, or how grateful you are if someone has done something for you, then he or she will learn to do the same.
Here are a few ways you raise your children to be grateful:
Use the language of gratitude.
Being grateful is a complex concept and one that takes time before any child will really get it. Start by using ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and expecting your young child to do the same. From as soon as they can speak you can encourage them to use these words. Share how pleased you are with small things that can happen in the day, or how lucky you feel when things go well. When we are out at night we always look to see if we can see the stars in the dark sky and feel very lucky whenever we can. My children now do this without being prompted; it is lovely to see how happy they are when they can see lots of stars or even a big moon.
Don’t overwhelm your child with gifts.
With young children, it is really tempting to shower them with lots and lots of gifts. I know that because I love shopping and choosing gifts for my children. But we have all seen that glazed look on children’s faces as they rip open wrapping paper, glance at what is inside and onto the next. We are not helping them appreciate what they have or what they receive when we give them so many gifts at any one time. By giving them fewer presents they can really enjoy and focus on the one or two gifts they receive. For our children’s birthdays, we now suggest close friends or family members band together to get one big gift rather than many smaller ones, which can easily get lost in the excitement.
Show how much you appreciate your children
We often get caught up in being busy and laying down the rules, which often start with “don’t do this or don’t do that”. How often do we take a moment afterwards to show our appreciation? ‘Thank you so much for coming with me so quickly after school. I know how hard it is for you when you don’t get time to have a play on the playground but we are in rush and I appreciate you being so fast”.
Tell them how happy you felt when they came into your life. My children love to hear that!
Chiltern house review is a preschool which aims to create the same warm and family-like environment for children in school.
Find ways to help those that are less fortunate
Explain that sometimes others don’t have as much as we do. If there are ways that you become involved in a community or regional charity then try to become active in that. There are usually a number of different ways to do this; it could be helping out in an animal shelter with animals that don’t have anyone to care for them or love them. It could be donating books to a local hospice or children’s ward in a hospital. Explaining that others may be ill or very old and need help can open their eyes to seeing how lucky they are.
We have a wonderful helper who has been with us ever since my first child was born and we have often filled large boxes to send back to her family who has suffered in floods, fires and storms in Manila. The children can choose what books, toys and clothes they would like to send and also be a part of us choosing what we would send, from kitchenware to food. To be able to help others is very empowering, even for young children.
Start family traditions for expressing thanks
There are many ways to do this. This is what makes Thanksgiving my favourite holiday of all the celebrations and festivities I have experienced. There are no presents, loved ones come together and share what they are grateful for. You don’t have to be American to follow this great idea. You could make a ‘Tree of Thanks’ and get everyone to write on as many leaves as they like what they are thankful for and place these on the tree, where they can be read by everyone.
I just recently spoke to a teacher who told me that his family, which includes his two children, aged 7 and 3 and his wife, go around the table every evening and each person has two stars and a wish. You get to choose two of your favourite events or experiences from that day and give them a star each, and one wish for something from your day that maybe could have gone a bit differently.
I love this idea! I am truly grateful that I had the opportunity to hear his way of instilling gratitude in his young children and developing in them a habit of reflecting on each day, sharing experiences with people who care and focusing on what made you happy. That is what I want for my children.