Parenting

Expressing gratitude best learned by example

 

Chicago Tribune

Some of us are still reeling from our attempts to coax a shred of Thanksgiving gratitude out of our kids.

“Remember, sweetie, when Grandma asked what you’re most thankful for and you said nail polish? I wonder if next year we could mention some things that aren’t sold in the cosmetics aisle.”

Let’s not lose hope, though. Even amid the holiday jumble of mixed messages — Make a list of all the presents you want! Be grateful for what you have! Smile for Santa! Remember the needy! — it really is possible to raise kids with a passing notion of their great good fortune.

Alan E. Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center and author of The Everyday Parenting Toolkit (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), has some fascinating, research-based theories on shaping our kids’ outlooks — how they, literally, see the world.

Parents have more power than we realize, he says, to direct and alter children’s perceptions about themselves and the culture around them.

“You can sit down at the table with your partner and say, ‘I want these three things in my child,'” Kazdin told me. “Maybe you want gratitude and altruism and kindness. Maybe you want self-esteem. Whatever it is, you constantly look for instances in which you can model it.

“Modeling is huge. It’s just huge.”

We can spell out, day after day, a well-reasoned, multipoint illustration of how much our kids have to be grateful for. We can remind them that lots of kids would be thrilled to have one (just one!) American Girl doll. We can read them statistics on world hunger and remind them that broccoli is, actually, the opposite of the worst thing ever.

None of it is as effective, Kazdin says, as modeling some gratitude of our own.

“It’s like if you sat down with your child at the piano and said, ‘Now I’m going to teach you the scales. Don’t touch anything,'” he says. “It would be the silliest thing in the world.”

Explaining a concept, in other words, doesn’t teach it nearly as well as modeling and practicing it.

“Practice changes your brain,” he says. “When an amateur musician becomes a great musician, his brain has actually changed. You can measure and see the changes in specific neurons and networks in the brain.”

But it’s not enough to wait for big moments that call for obvious gestures of gratitude. We have to create moments, Kazdin says, to model and encourage the behaviors we hope to instill in our kids.

Maybe that means complaining less about how much we just ate and how much laundry we have to do and acknowledging how out-of-this-world grateful we feel to have much too much of the things that so many people crave: food and clothing.

Maybe it means letting our kids know how grateful we are to have them.

A few weeks ago my son slammed his finger in the classroom door as we were leaving preschool. My daughter and I rushed him to the emergency room, where a surgeon repaired his pinkie. He heard me tell the story more than a dozen times over the next few days to family members, friends and neighbors.

When we returned to school a couple of days later, he was ready to tell the story himself. His take?

“Thank God my sister was with us,” he told his teacher. “She calmed me down in the car and she carried my mom’s purse at the hospital.”

Which is what he heard me tell every kind soul who checked in with us. I just didn’t realize I was teaching my son to do the same.

Read more Lifestyle stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
The work 'IMAG_NE' by Australian artist Emma Anna, coming to Boca Raton this fall, on display in Sydney, Australia in 2008.

    Florida notes

    It’s the season to see Key Deer

    Dear to the hearts of many are the miniature deer that exist only in the Florida Keys. Fully grown, these Key Deer stand only two to three feet high, but resemble their bigger siblings in every respect: Stags grow a full set of antlers, does charm with their limpid eyes.

  • wine

    It’s time to give syrah another shot

    Speaking of a St. Louis restaurant years ago, Yogi Berra famously said, “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

  • Dear Abby

    Dear Abby: Obsession over six-pack abs puts swimmer in unsafe water

    Dear Abby: I’m a 21-year-old man who has been a successful swimmer in high school and now in college. Over the past few months, I have become obsessed with developing six-pack abs. I have never had much success with women, and I thought that looking like a movie star might finally get me noticed and make me feel good about myself.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category