My 10-year-old son, Harry, drives me mad, constantly demanding the latest video games (and game consoles) and I hear myself coming out with the kind of things my parents said to me and which I vowed I'd never say. Things like 'when I was your age...' and 'you don't know how lucky you are...'
Recently Harry said, "I'm happy with what I've got, but that doesn't mean I don't always want more", which is pretty much how I feel as well, so I can't complain too much... but what I really want is for him to be grateful.
In Making Grateful Kids, Jeffrey J. Froh and Giacomo Bono claim gratitude helps kids to 'behave better, improve their grades, feel happier, and avoid risky behaviours'. One of their first suggestions for what they describe as a 'miracle cure' is to 'focus children on why good things happen to them and on the people responsible for making the good things happen'.
So if the children receive a gift - and this is particularly pertinent at this time of year - talk about who it came from and why they gave it, rather than letting them rip off the paper and move on to the next thing.
One thing that seems to work for us is making a donation to charity at the same time as giving the boys their pocket money. Harry and Joe choose the charity - a different one each month - and we always read the thank you email (or sometimes letter) we get in response. Since we started doing this a couple of years ago, they've actually come up with their own ideas for raising money for charity - their sponsored read (Harry read to Joe) raised £1000 for Save the Children.
My friend Melissa MacFarlane has done something similar with her five children. She says, "My eldest said he thought he had a hard life so I showed him a charity appeal video. We now sponsor an Ethiopian boy and the children track his progress and get letters from him, which they love."
Author Rowan Coleman's daughter Lily emptied out her savings account after hearing about the Boxing Day tsunami. "She was only four or five at the time," Rowan says, "but she gave about £100 to the appeal. She was very grateful that she hadn't lost everything."
In Making Grateful Kids, Froh and Bono also talk about modelling gratitude for your children. One way to do this is to actually thank them for things they do for you. Another is to talk as a family about how lucky you are to be able to buy certain things or have holidays or experiences together.
My friend Tiffany Ashton Baker does this with a 'thankful tree', something she started doing when her eldest daughter - now 16 - was a baby. "This year we just had the little ones gather sticks and I taped them to the wall," Tiffany says. "We cut out leaves from construction paper and left them and a marker in the middle of the dinner table. We encourage each other to think of anything we're thankful for and write it on a leaf, then we add them to the tree. Initially it was hard for the children to think of things but as they got going they realised they had so much to be thankful for! The tree gets fuller and fuller as the days pass by."
Writer Anne Booth has also made giving thanks part of her family routine. "We get together in our sitting room every night and take it in turns to say what we are thankful for," Anne says. "It only takes a few minutes but it's a really nice end to the day and it just makes you realise how many small good things there are to be thankful for, as well as the days when there is something amazing.
"Sometimes I sit down feeling grumpy or tired, but finding that there is never NOTHING to be grateful for is a good corrective for self pity and gets things in perspective."
My parents used to sometimes tell me to 'think yourself lucky', but it never made me feel lucky, it made me feel guilty and resentful. I don't want my sons to take for granted what they are lucky enough to have. But I don't want to have to constantly remind them how lucky they are either. I think cultivating what Oprah calls an 'attitude of gratitude' is just what they need. And Christmas seems like a very good time to start.
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