Today, our children seem to be on the go all the time. School is more demanding, extracurricular activities and friends are consuming most of their remaining time. What little is left seems to be devoted to looking at cellphones, tablets, or other forms of digital devices. There seems to be little time or space in which we, as parents, can cultivate the concepts of gratitude or thankfulness in our children.
This becomes even more of a dilemma for those parents who are going through a divorce. Children are torn apart from their familiar patterns of behavior and the familiar patterns of their life with their two parents. Consequently, there seems to be little for which children should be grateful for during or after a divorce. Nevertheless, a whole body of research confirms that adults, children, and teenagers who report feeling gratitude are happier, healthier, more content, more optimistic, and more likely to be helpful to other people in every way. They are also less materialistic, less envious, and less likely to be depressed. If developing an attitude of gratitude and thankfulness can lead to such important dividends, then how can we, as parents, help cultivate and rediscover the “gratitude attitude” on which Thanksgiving was founded? Or, in other words, how do we, as parents, try to keep the "thanks" in Thanksgiving year-round in our children?
It's not as difficult as it seems. It can be as simple as starting to create traditions, habits, and behaviors within your family that consciously or unconsciously center around gratitude or thankfulness. Such behaviors are not hard to develop in your children, and can result in their being thankful despite your divorce. Just try the following:
- Have your family members count blessings by listing things everyone is grateful for every night at dinner or bedtime. If you want, you can record those blessings in a family gratitude journal.
- Look for books on gratitude at the library and online and read them with your child. Talk about what gratitude means and what you're grateful for.
- Express your thanks through service. Today most public school children must complete a certain number of community service hours in order to graduate. Start that practice earlier in their life. Volunteer as a family unit at a shelter that feeds hungry people, make cards for our troops, you can bake pies with your children, and take some to your local homeless shelter or fire station. Explain to your children that we are all interconnected, and we benefit as much from giving as we do from receiving.
- Have your children write thank you letters to mail or deliver in person "to someone who has done something really kind for you but you never gave them the thanks that they deserve".
- Create a blessing tablecloth for Thanksgiving or some other special event during the year. Have each person write their name, the date, and three things for which they're grateful on a plain white tablecloth using permanent markers. Repeat this annually with the same cloth, and your children will look forward to the tablecloth every year, even when they're in their more cynical teenage years.
- During a meal, clink your glass and make a toast of gratitude that you all can get to be together and then go around the table and have each person state at least three things that they're grateful for; mindfulness meditation.
- Practicing "mindfulness" means that you're actively paying attention for the moment you're in right now. A mantra is sometimes used to help maintain focus, but you can also focus on something that you're grateful for, such as a pleasant smell, a cool breeze, or a lovely memory. Remember it's not the length of the mediation that matters (particularly when you're dealing with young children). What’s important is the attempt to focus on the present moment. Remember, it’s about training them to focus upon being present in the moment, rather than worrying about tomorrow or yesterday.
- Donate to your favorite charity. Some items in your house may no longer be of use to you or your children, but could be extremely valuable to others. Gather up gently used toys, clothes, furniture and other items in your home, and deliver them to The Salvation Army, Goodwill or another charitable organization.
- Send a care package to soldiers overseas. A holiday care package can be a great pick-me-up for soldiers who are far from home during the holiday. Gather up everyday necessities like soap, razors, toothbrushes, and travel-size toiletries. Don't forget to include some sweets and goodies to keep their bellies full such as cookies, Rice Krispie treats, and gum.
- Volunteer at a senior center or veterans' center. Growing up when I was among my elders, I always noted how they loved to talk about when they were young. This Thanksgiving volunteer to chat, listen, or play a simple game with those of a different generation. The seniors or veterans will appreciate spending time with young people, and your children might just learn a thing or two.
- Decorate your home with words of thanks. For instance, for your holiday feast, create a thankful Thanksgiving tablecloth.
You don't have to incorporate all of these suggestions into your family life to create a deeper sense of gratitude and thankfulness in children. Nevertheless, the incorporation of a few of these practices may pay great dividends for your children now and in the future, and in your relationship with them. It certainly won't hurt to try.
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Board Certified Marital and Family Law Attorney Charles D. Jamieson understands that divorce is an extremely sensitive and important issue. Thanks to extensive experience and a focus on open communication, Attorney Jamieson adeptly addresses the complex issues surrounding divorce while delivering excellent personal service. To discuss your divorce or other family law matter, please contact The Law Firm of Charles D. Jamieson, P.A. online or call 561-478-0312.