In a developed and affluent society where we enjoy a relatively high standard of living, it is easy to take these comforts for granted.
For parents, our challenge is not only to fight apathy in ourselves, but also to ensure it doesn’t take root in our children. It can be hard — with easy access to a good education, comfortable homes and ample toys, how do we help our children develop a spirit of gratitude and even generosity towards others? It will take an intentional effort for us to cultivate these values in them.
Consider these four simple strategies that are easily implemented:
1. Count Your Blessings
Research has shown that individuals who practice gratitude enjoy a better quality of life overall. They are healthier, more positive and more resilient under pressure. While gratitude may not come naturally to everyone, it can certainly be nurtured.
Try this simple exercise with your children each night before they go to bed. Take turns to share three things that you were grateful for in that day. These may be simple things such as having a comfortable bed to sleep in, or a favourite meal at dinner. Over time, our children will become much more attuned to the positive aspects of their lives and get into the habit of showing gratitude for these things, people and occurrences.
2. Say ‘Thank You’
Another way to inculcate this value is to get our children to express gratitude tangibly. Encouraging them to say ‘thank you’ after receiving help is a good habit to cultivate. Writing simple notes to express their thanks is another option. A quick look at our calendar features a number of dates when we can encourage our children to do this, such as Teachers’ Day, Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day.
Further reading: 6 Empowering Lessons to Teach Your Children
3. Start Where You Are
Once we have successfully set our children on the path to practicing gratitude, we’ll notice that they will be more inclined to feel greater empathy for others, and express a desire to help them.
We don’t often need to look very far to find someone who needs our help. Observe your immediate neighbourhood, and keep a look out for opportunities to help a neighbour or even a specific group in your community. You and your child might volunteer to do the weekly grocery shopping for an elderly neighbour, or even babysit a young child so that the parents can enjoy a much-needed date night.
Remember to get the children involved and get their suggestions on who you can help together. With practice, they will learn to be more sensitive towards other people’s needs, and be proactive in helping when they can.
4. Use What You Have
What passions, talents and resources do your family members have? Write these down together and brainstorm how you may use them to contribute to your community. An older child with a flair for language and drama may want to host a weekly book reading session at the neighbourhood library. A child who plays an instrument may want to hold a small concert to cheer up the residents in an eldercare facility. There are many opportunities to impact our communities and enrich their lives by channelling our children’s talents and interests this way.
As we begin to express gratitude and practice generosity with our children, we might find that opportunities present themselves often so we just have to be alert and respond. Ultimately, we need to give our children the space and time to practice these values and let these take root in their lives. These values will certainly place them on the path to a more empathetic, socially conscious and fulfilling life.
© 2017 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
Written by Judith Xavier