Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Teaching Kids Gratitude & Generosity

By Faith Rowland, M.D.
Happy New Year! Are you working on your 2013 resolutions? A popular one is being more thankful (like starting a daily gratitude journal). There is definitely a link between thankfulness and mental wellness. I hope to encourage you to not only focus on gratitude in your life but also help you inspire your kids to do the same. If you were raised by parents who valued this quality, you might just smile as we reflect on how to teach our children and teens to be more thankful in 2013.
Let’s review some timeless parental guidance passed on to me by my wise mom and dad.  
     “Say Thank you”
I remember the excitement of getting Christmas gifts from my grandmother’s co-workers in addition to those from my parents and other family members. I’d open and shake each card, smile from ear to ear, set it aside and rush to rip open the next one. My mother would ask me, “Who gave you that gift?” I would never know because I had opened the card too quickly. My mother would make me collect every envelope that I’d impulsively ignored and sit at the dining room table to write thank you cards to every person who took their time and hard-earned money to be kind to me. The question “Do I have to?” crossed my mind (but not my mouth), and I’d write individual notes to each person. Eventually, I actually understood the joy that others received when reading my notes and the value of saying “thank you.” This lesson helped me to understand and appreciate the generosity of others.  

     Please take care of what you have.”
Moms and dads who demonstrate good stewardship and encourage their kids to do the same will eventually get good results.  We forget that children have to actually be taught how to care for their things. There is no substitute for a parent who is a good example in the area where they want their child to grow. Explaining the value of stewardship and complimenting children when they take care of what they have helps to instill a sense of organization and responsibility. Kids who value what they have will one day become adults who do the same.

     “Save your money if you want it.”
This old-school principle is time-tested and works wonders. There is something about paying for an object ourselves that makes us respect hard work and develop a proper appreciation for money.  I will never forget that my first paycheck as a teenager went to pay for a dental retainer I’d lost. Although I first felt sad about “wasting” my money on a boring retainer, I also realized the lesson my parents wanted to teach me. When MY hard-earned cash went to replace something so mundane, I was sure to take better care of my belongings and recognize all that my parents provided for me.

     ** “Share, serve, and give to others.” **
I saved the most important advice for last; this one puts the previous three into perspective. Showing kids the significance of sharing your resources and serving others remind them that “wants” and “needs” are completely separate. Developing an attitude of service and generosity enhances our mental wellness. Teach your children and teens by being a role model and making service work and donating family traditions (volunteering together at shelters, participating in toy and clothing drives).  
Remember that gratitude and generosity are traits we can and should teach our children. Wishing you and your family a happy and thankful year!
Faith Rowland, M.D., is a child and adolescent psychiatry fellow at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center/Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic where she completed her adult psychiatry residency.

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