Ask the Experts: Creating Gratitude at Home




We asked local experts to weigh in on their top tips instilling gratitude in children.

To find more answers to other common parenting questions, check out our collection of Ask the Experts.


Trudy Ruminer: Ask each family member to write down at least 20 small things that bring them joy and create a “joy jar” for everyone in the family. Then as a consequence for negative behavior, your child would have to choose something from another family member's “joy jar” to complete for them. As a reward for kind behavior a parent would pick an item from the child’s joy jar to complete for the child. This also works well to reduce sibling rivalry. Your kids can complete an item for their sibling as a way to make amends. 

Trudy Ruminer is a licensed clinical social worker and the clinical director and owner of True North Therapeutic Solutions, an outpatient mental health agency in Oklahoma City. Trudy is mother to four adult children and the proud grandmother to one. She draws her knowledge not only from her own personal parenting experiences, but also from her years of experience working closely with families. 


 

Dr. Anne K. Jacobs: 

As parents, we work very hard to provide for all of our children's needs which makes it especially difficult when we see our children act in ungrateful and selfish ways. Parents can put a lot of pressure on themselves to make the most of a teachable moment. However, children often learn the most from the smaller, everyday moments. The first strategy you have is to model appreciation and a giving spirit. Children intuitively sense that our true values are reflected through our behaviors more than our words. Show them these behaviors extend to others outside of our home as well. Consider volunteering as a family and help support them in taking action to address social needs that touch their hearts. Keep your expectations developmentally appropriate. Instilling gratitude and generosity is an ongoing process.  

Help your children love their own characteristics. Praise positive behaviors ("I'm proud to have such a caring daughter"), and label undesired behaviors ("Leaving Susan out hurt her feelings"). Often children can be more sensitive and caring out in the world than at home. Share with your children the wonderful things you hear about them from others, without contrasting it to the less-than-desirable behaviors you might see at home. Letting your children know that you are grateful for them, especially during the rocky times, gives them an important foundation from which they can risk caring for others.

Anne K. Jacobs earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Child Psychology from the University of Kansas and enjoys serving children, adolescents and their families. In addition to her private practice in Edmond, she holds an adjunct faculty position at Southern Nazarene University. Her family includes: husband, Noel who is also a child psychologist; twin daughters, Keegan and Sarah; one dog, two cats, and five tarantulas. 


Madison Clark: As many of us have learned the hard way, kids are always watching and listening to the grown-ups in their lives. Most parents do a lot to serve our communities, schools and friends, but we have been conditioned not to “toot our own horns,” so our children have no idea what we do. Children do not always catch the obvious rhythms of our lives, so sometimes we need to spell it out for them. Just as we outline the steps to complete a long division problem, we need to show our kids clearly how to be thankful and generous. I am always a fan of reading books with children that hit on a life value lesson, and there are so many great books about generosity and gratitude. Some of my favorite books on this topic are: "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein, "An Awesome Book of Thanks" by Dallas Clayton and "The Giving Book" by Ellen Sabin.

Madison Clark is a licensed professional counselor and registered play therapist in private practice in Norman. She specializes in working with families with young children, ages 0-6. She has extensive training in play therapy and enjoys watching parents connect with their children through play. 


Jim Priest: Model and nurture gratitude intentionally. Take your kids to events where they can be generous either by giving or by donating their time. Give thanks every night at the supper table for your food and express thanks to family members for good deeds large and small. Above all, help them understand all we have is a gift from God.

Jim Priest is the CEO of Sunbeam Family Services, a 109-year-old non-profit that provides a range of social services to support Oklahoma’s most vulnerable people. Jim and his wife, Diane, have been married for 38 years and have two adult children, Amanda and Spencer and are owned by a dog named Jeter.


Tamara Walker: Volunteering as a family is a great way to instill gratitude and generosity in our kids. Volunteering also teaches kids about compassion, empathy, responsibility and the world around them. If your child is too young to volunteer at local organizations, they can still participate in other volunteer activities. For example, when I operated a preschool/ daycare facility, the kids in my care were preschool and young elementary age. We hosted our own fundraiser, a dance party, to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, using materials provided by the foundation. The kids asked parents, relatives and friends to pledge money to the cause. The kids loved raising money to help kids who were sick. We also talked about being grateful for our health and the importance of taking good care of our bodies.

Tamara Walker, R.N. shares her family expertise at MomRN.com and Ask MomRN Show, a weekly online talk show featuring family/parenting, health and family entertainment topics with well-known experts, authors, and celebrity guests. Tamara is a mom of two young adults. She lives with her husband in Edmond. 


Greg Gunn: Generosity is a way of life. It is an attitude that is reflected from parents. If parents are generous with their time, money and things, the children usually lean this way. There should be an attitude of gratitude first to those in the family. Family members should always treat each other with gratitude by verbalizing “thank you” and having a kind hearted spirit towards each other. Siblings should be happy for each other when they receive gifts and not need to get one too. However, that does not come naturally. It will need to be taught. One time a young boy was complaining to his mother that he only got $1 from the tooth fairy and felt like he should get $5 like one of his friends did. His mom asked him to come over to the computer where she found some pictures of children around the world who slept on cardboard boxes and did not have a pillow for a tooth fairy to even give them a penny. Helping our children to see all the wonderful things they have and giving them an opportunity to help others will help them grow up to be grateful and generous.

Greg Gunn, founder of Family-iD, is a life coach, pastor, author and speaker from Oklahoma City. Married for 30 years, Greg is a father of seven kids, a father-in-law and a grandfather of two. For 17 years, Greg has led Family Vision Ministries, a ministry that helps families put their purpose on paper and pass it on to future generations. 


Dr. Lisa L. Marotta: Selling your kids on being thankful can be just as tedious as getting them to eat spinach. But keep it up because both are “good for you.” Research on gratitude in children has found lasting effects on mood, mental health and life satisfaction. Breaking down the skills in gratitude, we find that there are three parts to helping kids understand the bigger picture in a kind action:

1. The intention of the giver. Ask questions like “how did this person know you would like this gift?” Highlighting the thought behind the action helps kids learn from the mindset of others who are generous.

2.  The cost of giving. All giving involves sacrifice. “What could your friend have been doing instead of helping you with your project?” Time, money and sharing are choices made in place of other options. This understanding enhances appreciation.

3. The benefits. Small actions can create a big difference. Many families have a tradition at the dinner table or at bedtime to share the “highs and lows” of their day. This habit directs attention to the little things people do that make a day better.

Gratitude and generosity are two sides of the same emotional coin. Teaching gratitude to your children is a rewarding effort that will have lasting benefits to their emotional resilience. When a child develops an attitude of gratitude, they are more likely to pass the kindness onto others. Who knows? They might even thank you for it!

Dr. Lisa L. Marotta is celebrating 22 years of private practice. She is a clinical psychologist in Edmond with a special heart for women, children and families. Dr. Marotta enjoys writing, public speaking and blogging. She and her husband Sal have two young adult daughters.


To find more answers to other common parenting questions, check out our collection of Ask the Experts.

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