How to Raise a Truly Grateful Child

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“You don’t ‘fix’ your child. You create the conditions for them to rise.” Dr. Shefali Tsabary

With an overdue cold front making its way to Houston yesterday, I made a quick trip up to Target to get my son some new pants. Inevitably due to his age, he had many demands while there, one of which for a candy bar at the self-check register. I felt grateful to have not only been clear on my intention to buy nothing more than the pants but expressing this boundary to him before we went inside. Stating as a matter of fact, I reminded him of our agreement, said that if he didn’t return the candy before leaving the store he could be arrested for stealing, and made my way for the door. Sure enough, he returned the candy and came running along.

Now, I could’ve been afraid of appearing cold-blooded to the onlookers. I could’ve given in to him justifying the last minute demand out of convenience or anxiety over the scene he was causing. I could’ve tried to pry it from his hands and replaced it myself, robbing him of the choice to do so on his own. I could’ve had an emotional reaction, shamed him, or used guilt to manipulate him. I could’ve had my own tantrum about how ungrateful he was about getting new pants, or the bucket of remaining Halloween candy we have at home, or the many privileges he has. I could’ve tried to negotiate or attempt to avert his attention with a fun game.

So many possibilities, and ALL would’ve taught him something. The difference is, I want to be conscious about what I am teaching – and I want it to be conscious to him too. In fact, I continued to feel grateful even as we left the store, and he felt that and asked to stop for a hug in the parking lot.

I think each and every mother I’ve known or worked with has at one time or another expressed a desire to raise a grateful child. I didn’t raise him to be such a brat. Why can’t she be grateful for all that I’ve given her?

When it comes to gratitude, saying please and thank you is important, but that’s not all there is. I think we’re all more interested in that happy-to-be-alive sort of vibe that all kids start off with when they’re little. How do we help our kids live from that place and raise their consciousness of how to build their lives around it?

Here are 4 ways I see to raising a truly grateful child in a more conscious way.

1. Work with spiritual law

Rules can be misinterpreted, changed, and broken, unlike spiritual law.

As much as she’d like to, a mother cannot shield or protect her child from life’s events. There will most certainly be some pain. Strained friendships and breakups. Accidents and loss. Conscious parents show their child how to work with spiritual law, rather than against it. Giving and receiving. Intention and desire. Creativity and action. Cause and effect.

How hard is it for me to ask for and receive help? How often do I stop to brainstorm possible solutions with my child before taking corrective action? What (conscious and unconscious) agreements have I made with my child? How many times have I nagged my child to do something and rather than following through on an agreement, I’ve repeated yourself?

2. Offer clear boundaries

With her budding independence, my daughter started wandering away when we’re in public places. One day after school, she decided to test me when it was time to head home from the playground. I warned her once more that her little brother and I were leaving, and said it was her choice whether to walk safely home with me or on her own. In protest, she sat down in a huff. So I left.

Manners may make a child feel polite or obedient, but boundaries make a child feel secure.

Eventually, she came running to catch up, her cheeks streaked with tears. “I’m so dumb. I should’ve believed you when you said you were leaving.” Her words tugged at my heart, and for a split second I wondered if I’d been too harsh, but then again I felt gratitude. Out of gratitude came my response, “No, you’re a really smart girl because you learn from your mistakes.” Feeling connected to the inner wisdom of Spirit, I celebrated having taken advantage of this invaluable moment on a route she walks to and from school each day. We were deeply connected for the rest of the evening. She seemed unusually helpful around the house, upbeat, and self-assured.

3. Share a practice

I wish I could say that I’ve mastered staying consciously connected to a state of gratitude at all times. While I’m learning and practicing though, I’m committed to at the least starting and ending my days with it. On the days when I meditate before going upstairs to greet them, I feel strong and powerful and grateful. And I see this gratitude rubbing off on my kids. The feeling supports me through the morning routine and I’m more patient and compassionate towards them.

Begin and end each day with gratitude.

At bedtime, we share a moment of grateful reflection. Guiding them through a bedtime meditation, listening to their prayers, and hearing their “3 things” that they’re grateful for has become my favorite part of the day.

4. Live it

Children learn by watching us. As parents, we are their primary models for how to be in the world. While teaching our children good manners is the polite thing to do, it falls short of the possibility of living in gratitude.

To be clear, there’s a distinction between acting as if everything in the world makes us happy and the authenticity to accept the as-is in the name of growth. Sometimes we’ll have growing pains, but can choose to focus on, even celebrate, our potential.

Gratitude is the energy that infuses our actions with loving kindness.

True gratitude to me means walking the earth conscious to life having purpose and meaning, and that knowing is a state of being. A stubborn joy that lies beneath whatever mood may be passing through. Joy that comes from within, perhaps tested, but never taken away. ♥

What ways do you show your child how to be grateful? Please share in the comments below so we can learn from each other.

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