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Introducing children to gratitude, and thereby actually expanding their consciousness, may begin with teaching children to say thank you for gifts and nice things that others do for them. It may also include saying Grace before meals. We can point out, for example, that the vegetables or bread we eat comes from seeds planted, nurtured, watered, harvested, packaged, transported and sold by store keepers and involved many, many people who work hard to put food on our tables. Saying Grace helps us remember to be grateful to all who contribute to our well being.
Writing a gratitude list (or drawing a picture with young children) makes people of any age feel better. I have encouraged this exercise with my own children as they grew up and with the people in my practice. I have written a daily gratitude list for 20 years. Gratitude is truly an anti-depressant.
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It is particularly important to teach gratitude to adolescents, who are in a normal self-absorbed phase of human development—but they are expected to grow out of it eventually. Left to their own devices and absorbed in a singular ME focus, they may become depressed, because total self-focus isn’t healthy or satisfying in the long run. Gratitude and enthusiasm enhance one’s life, relationships and helps humans make connections.
It may feel like an uphill battle for parents but it’s critical their teens see beyond themselves and their friends, even if it’s only for a moment at a time. Being able to see another’s point of view and to be grateful for a kindness received will widen their perspective and protect them from becoming narcissistic adults. As a psychotherapist and divorce professional I recognize narcissism in one or both partners as a primary contributing factor that leads to divorce and serious problems in non-marital relationships and friendships.
One way to foster gratitude in teens is to take a group to serve at a soup kitchen, help build a home with Habitat for Humanity, or work with a Midnight Run group bringing blankets and food to the homeless, for example. Kids who are lucky enough to have a home and parents realize not everyone has the same blessings. It can be an eye-opener.
Teens like to work with groups of friends and feel really good when they have the experience of helping others. An experience like this helps adolescents gain perspective and become more appreciative.
It’s part of our job as parents to teach what gratitude brings to our lives. Our children’s future success depends on it.