One of the most important jobs for parents is instilling compassion, gratitude and thankfulness into our children. It is not a job for a particular age, and in fact, conscious development is a long term process involving these traits. We all want to be proud of our children and to feel like we have done a good job of raising good citizens for this world. Knowing how to do that is not always just a matter of providing good instruction to the young person, but of demonstrating thankfulness in multiple situations and often without time to plan for it.
How do we describe thankfulness? Demonstrating thankfulness is the outward expression of internal gratitude and compassion. What we really want for our children is for them to develop gratitude and compassion internally and express that through external acts of thankfulness. Development of gratitude and compassion is a lifelong process. Some say it is developed through physical, mental and emotional growth, but researchers have shown that even infants feel empathy for a crying peer and will attempt to comfort them. So age is not always a factor in whether someone has compassion and gratitude, but that may guide how they demonstrate it to others. Others say it is a matter of exposure to acts of thankfulness and it must be modeled for the child or adolescent. Yet there are many cases of very compassionate and generous people who come from abusive or negligent backgrounds.
So what can parents do to encourage these traits of gratitude, compassion and thankfulness in our young family members? Thanksgiving is a holiday that provides an obvious opportunity to do just that. Whether it means donating food or clothing, preparing meals for those less fortunate or simply offering thanks for what you have is a way to show what compassion and thankfulness are about. Discussing what is important to you and why, and encouraging the young person to do the same will help them to be able to articulate and explain what is important to them. To further these thoughts, discuss how they might express their sense of thankfulness, how it can become an action. Then, be sure to appreciate what they have done in order to reinforce the process. It helps the whole family to focus on thankfulness when just one person decides it is time to act. Be grateful and join in so everyone can benefit!