We recently had our first campfire of the season, and my husband surprised us with s’more fixings to make it extra fun. Not gonna lie, I was pretty stressed out because our boys were being way too active around the fire. But I was secretly satisfied with how they appreciated the little things – the colors and glow of the fire, the fun in roasting marshmallows, the night sky, the anticipation in our plans to invite others to our next campfire.
They went to bed full of peace and excitement (and sugar, but let’s not talk about that). It was an evening (mostly) free of whining and complaining because they are learning to be mindful of simple pleasures.
Thankfulness for simple pleasures goes a long way toward raising kids that are not spoiled and entitled. Teaching responsibility and requiring our kids to help out around the house helps, but it’s not enough. The inability to enjoy simple things seems to be a key characteristic of spoiled, entitled people. It’s not easy to be thankful for what you have when you’re constantly grasping for what you don’t have.
So how do we raise thankful, grateful kids?
Develop an Attitude of Gratitude
One of the first steps in helping our kids avoid the “spoiled” label is to help them to focus on what they have. Even when they don’t have everything they want. Even on a difficult day.
Some people have more difficulty than others in developing a thankful attitude. When life is truly difficult, gratefulness doesn’t come easy. When there have been a lot of disappointments, gratefulness seems far away. When an individual struggles with perfectionism, gratefulness seems like an impossibility (because the goal of Perfect is unattainable).
But sincere, active gratitude is KEY for longterm happiness. It helps us to pull the focus from a perceived lack and put it instead on current abundance. Acknowledging and more fully enjoying what we have gives us less time to focus on what we don’t have.
Focus on Simple Pleasures
When we think about being thankful, the same things come to mind – family, health, employment to meet needs, food…you know what I mean. And those are definitely – DEFINITELY – areas for thankfulness. But it can be difficult for kids to experience sincere gratitude in those areas unless they’ve also had serious lack in those same areas. And I find that giving a speech along the lines of, “You know there are starving kids that would just love to have this dinner,” does not reach the desired result.
So I try to focus on simple pleasures. Pleasures that may require us to stop and be still and be fully in the moment.
- the wind in the treetops
- the feel of the sun
- the changing of seasons
- a cozy fire
- a fun story
- a special meal
- a visit with family/friends
- whipped cream on hot chocolate
- a funny joke
- learning something new
A Simple Habit to Help Your Child Focus on Thankfulness
While I do try to pull my boys’ attention to simple pleasures, at some point they need to learn to do that on their own. A tool I’m using to help them to develop a habit of gratitude of gratitude and thankfulness is a journaling page for them to record highlights of their days. The best part of the day to each of them.
They don’t need to write a long thankfulness list filled with mentions of family and food. They get to write what they themselves are truly thankful for. Sometimes their highlights mention family (playing with cousins) or food (birthday cake!), but sometimes it’s watching new episodes of a favorite show, playing Roblox, or jumping on the trampoline with Daddy.
I place these journaling pages in their Morning Work binders. They write just one sentence or phrase about something good on the previous day. It helps them to focus on something positive at the beginning of the day. And seeing a list of highlights on the page in front of them helps them to see that they have so many good things in their lives every day, not just special days like birthdays and holidays.
Their list of highlights also helps me to encourage them to really think about the pleasures of each day. If they can’t think of something to write (“I don’t have a highlight!”), I remind them of moments during the day that they seemed to especially enjoy (“Oh, yeah!”). Or if I see the same thing written down over and over again ( “watching TV” ), I can redirect them to consider other pleasurable activities.
Watch Contentment Grow
Our culture puts a huge focus on consumerism and big events, positioning them as prerequisites to happiness. But let’s face it – we’re not going to go on vacation every other day, or make a huge fun purchase every time we go shopping, or even have a campfire every night. If we depend on any of those things to make us happy, we will often be unhappy.
But enjoying, and lo, even anticipating, simple pleasures helps us to be grateful rather than grasping. And helping our kids to develop a habit of thankfulness for everyday joys early in life will set them up for a lifetime of contentment.
If you’re interested in more independent Morning Work activities to get your kids’ days started off on the right foot, you may be interested in this.