As the holidays draw near, the obsession with wish lists, parties and MORE everything seems to take over my household. And it’s not just my kids who often need to take a breath, it’s me, too, who requires a reset.
We asked several local moms how they inspire contentment in their kids and families, not just during the holiday season, but all year long.
“Contentment means being OK with what you have.”
Fourth grader Micah McGee, a Sunday school student of Kourtney Aller, director of Children’s Ministries at Church of the Servant
The first step in finding contentment is often acknowledging feelings of jealousy, anger or frustration. Erin Engelke, mom of three and director of Oklahoma City nonprofit Calm Waters, which provides grief support for families, witnesses daily the value in validating children’s emotions, whether over a significant loss or simply wanting something a friend has.
“Our job as parents is to acknowledge what they are feeling, even if it doesn’t make sense to us,” said Engelke. “Otherwise, they think they are wrong for feeling that way and the next time don’t feel safe to share how they feel.”
Reminding kids while they can’t control what happens to them, they can control how they respond helps them harness their power to choose positivity, even in hard circumstances.
News personalty Ali Meyer practiced positivity when she was unexpectedly diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2018. Meyer found comfort in sharing her feelings with viewers, and her four girls.
“There are things to be grateful for even in what seems a dark and dismal diagnosis,” said Meyer, who had a mastectomy followed by several reconstructive procedures. “This is treatable and curable and I’m focused on that and not what I’m losing.”
“We do bedtime gratitude where we take turns sharing things we are grateful for that day.”
Oklahoma City entrepreneur Shelley Leveridge practices nightly gratitude with her 5-year-old daughter.
“We take turns sharing things we are grateful for that day,” said Leveridge.
Kourtney Aller, director of Children’s Ministries at Church of the Servant, suggests asking kids what they would buy if they had unlimited funds, and then discussing what the family has that already meets their needs, or helping kids make gift tags to label everything they already have to be thankful for.
“Instead of focusing on what they don’t have, this helps them to be grateful for what they do have,” said Aller, a mom of two.
An attitude of gratitude helps children realize “stuff” doesn’t last forever and instead focus on their relationships and how they can make others’ lives better.
“They realize it will make them happy to make others happy,” said Aller.
“We had comparison growing up, but it was more in the moment, then you went home and forgot about it. Now it’s in kids’ faces all the time, and I find myself getting caught up in it sometimes, too.”
Director of student and community engagement at the University of Central Oklahoma Kay Robinson believes social media is entirely responsible for the comparison game played out among kids and adults alike.
“We had comparison growing up, but it was more in the moment, then you went home and forgot about it,” said Robinson. “Now it’s in kids’ faces all the time, and I find myself getting caught up in it sometimes, too.”
Meyer talks to her girls about reality verses perception on social media, and she constantly reminds them of how she sees them.
“We tell them ‘you are a masterpiece and a wonder and marvel walking the earth,’” said Meyer.
When Engelke’s kids feel they don’t measure up, she asks them to think through how to change the way they feel, their own wisdom and creativity giving them strength to solve the problem themselves. She encourages them to compliment others instead of focusing on feelings of envy.
“Point out ways kids can be happy for their friends instead,” echoes Aller. “Then they can let it go so jealousy doesn’t consume them.”
Engelke recently asked her oldest daughter to list all the things she’s good at to combat feelings of discontent.
“She came up with a list of 50 things and I think surprised herself,” said Engelke. “She realized she’s way more amazing than she gives herself credit for.”
“When we’re so consumed with what we don’t have it’s hard to see how we can meet the needs of others around us,” said Aller.
On the contrary, serving others gets kids focused outward. As a child, Leslie Illston, development and alumni relations officer at the University of Oklahoma, made blankets with her family for nursing home residents each Christmas.
“We asked for people who didn’t have family visiting them and we’d give them a blanket and ask to hear their stories,” said Illston, who plans to continue the tradition with
Robinson requires students in her freshman success class to complete three hours of community service and write a paper about their experience, many coming away more thankful for their own blessings. Robinson believes the most impactful lesson in serving others for her 5-year-old son is through their work as a foster family.
“I want to show him that even being a single mom on one income we have enough to give,” said Robinson. “It doesn’t matter if you are rich or living paycheck to paycheck, you can still find a way to help others.”
Resources for teaching contentment
The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who are Grounded, Generous and Smart, by Ron Lieber
Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, by Kristen Welch
I’m Happy for You (Sort of … Not Really), by Kay Wills Wyma
The Berenstain Bears Count Their Blessings, by Stan Berenstain
Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? by Dr. Seuss
Gratitude Soup, by Olivia Rosewood
Just So Thankful, by Mercer Mayer
Just Enough and Not Too Much, by Kaethe Zemach
Kirby the Disgruntled Tree, by Lori Wick
Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña
The Sparkle Box, by Jill Hardie
Thanks a Million, by Nikki Grimes
Those Shoes, by Maribeth Belts