As told to Leah R. Lightman
Torah Jews start the day by reciting the Modeh Ani prayer, thanking Hashem for the simple fact that we woke up. It would be more grammatically correct to say “Ani modeh.” Yet we commence with “thank you” in order to become habituated to having gratitude.
Gratitude is a skill that needs to be introduced and nurtured. Parents can begin teaching this skill to their children at a young age. The more we help our children cultivate an attitude of gratitude, the more positive they will be about life. Studies show that children who possess the trait of gratitude tend to be happier and more optimistic; they report more satisfaction with school, friends, themselves and life in general, as children and later as adults.
Grateful parents tend to raise grateful children. Practically speaking, parents can create an environment of gratitude by modeling a vocabulary of gratitude and by actively looking for opportunities to express gratitude. The possibilities for teachable moments are unlimited. A child comes home from school and his parent might ask him to talk about something nice that happened that day. When lighting Shabbat candles, a mother could tell her children that she is using this time to thank Hashem for her spouse, children, parents and others. Walking with children on a sunny day, a father might say, “Thank you Hashem for giving us this beautiful day so we can enjoy walking outdoors.” Keeping a gratitude box or journal is another great way to develop a gratitude mindset.
Fostering gratitude in today’s children, who live in an era of great expectations, is admittedly challenging. Parents can consciously choose to set an example by differentiating between needs and wants. A “need” is something you must have for survival, such as water, food and shelter. A “want” is something you would like to have but can live without, such as tennis lessons. When children hear their parents say they need a larger house, it leads them to believe they need what their classmates have. Having unmet needs can lead to negative thoughts, a low self-image and a worldview of dissatisfaction. On the other hand, a parent saying it would be nice to have a larger house but we are fortunate that we have room for everyone, live in a nice area and have friends and family nearby exemplifies gratitude.
For a lesson in this area, take your child to a grocery store or pharmacy. We need toothpaste. But we want sparkly nail polish. Also talk to your children about needs that can be met without money. Does your child need a hug? To be tucked into bed at night? To know that Daddy and Mommy daven for him or her?
Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” in children provides them with a foundation for other valuable traits, such as resilience, and leads them and their parents on a road to greater happiness.
Faye Wilbur, LCSW-R, is director of community relations for Mishkon, a division of The Jewish Board. She is a licensed clinical social worker and therapist with extensive post-master’s training with a particular focus on trauma. Ms. Wilbur maintains a private practice in Brooklyn, New York.
Leah R. Lightman is a freelance writer living in Lawrence, New York, with her family.
By Dr. Rona Novick
As told to Sandy Eller
Gratitude has a unique ability to cloak our world in a positive light and is yet another area in which we can teach our children by example how to appreciate all that they have in their lives. When Covid hit and I started working from home, I made daily trips out to my backyard to visit a plant and a tree that I had planted years earlier, a ritual that lifted my spirits. Even today, I still go outside to look at them regularly. Seeing that they have grown taller than I am leaves me feeling both excited and thankful, and I make a point to appreciate the joy they bring into my life.
Keep a gratitude journal. Do gratitude exercises. But above all, let your children see you being thankful for the positives in your life. There is no better way to raise grateful children than by letting them see you expressing gratitude for the people, objects and experiences that bring you joy.
More In This Section:
Resilience by Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt
Empowering Parents by Leah R. Lightman
Q&A with Dr. David Pelcovitz by Binyamin Ehrenkranz