Little girl looking at her mother
I’m reading the Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan and loved the chapter on Raising Grateful Kids. Her stories about UN-grateful preteens and young adults who resented the sense of obligation that comes with “thanking” their parents made me think about how we approach gratitude with our kids. Do we demand that they be grateful for all we do for them?
Modeling appreciation is the best way to teach gratitude. How often does our family hear us express gratitude for our job or coworkers? For the checker at the grocery store? For access to safe, nutritious food? For the privilege of transportation to get where we need and want to go? When was the last time your kids heard YOU say thanks to their other parent for something that just gets done at home? Have your kids seen YOU handwrite a thank you note to a friend for taking time to have lunch together? or bringing in the garbage cans that blew down the street? Appreciating the small things keeps us from taking things for granted. Learn more ways to raise grateful kids in this video Teach your kids the gift of giving.
My granddaughter signs ‘Thank you’ to her Papa when he gets her a drink of water. My heart swells when I see her learn this simple act of gratitude. It starts early and extends throughout our life. I started using the Five Minute Gratitude Journal to keep me focused on looking on the bright side of life.
Thank someone this week for who they are, or what they did, or that they are in your life. . . and tell us what happened to YOUR heart. To their attitude. To the relationship.
As I was reading about kindness I became fascinated by the brain research. I sat there thinking “Well of course, the brain is in charge of our feelings. Why wouldn’t it be the center of this conversation?”.
Our brains are in charge of our emotions and our actions. Our brains take the input we receive from others. Process the information. Tell us how to emotionally respond. And our actions become the response. Makes perfect sense. The brain is in charge of kindness.
And then I read this, “our brain learns best about kindness when it FEELS kindness”. There is was.
How should I teach my children about kindness? Help them FEEL kindness.
Children learn kindness when they ‘feel’ what its like to make someone else smile. And their brain learns.
They learn about kindness when they share with others, when they comfort others, when they give to others. And their brain learns.
Suddenly writing this blog topic wasn’t rocket science, but is was brain science. It was simply thinking about all of the ways that children can be kind to others and understanding that while they do this – their brain learns.
I can still hear my grandmother saying the prayer before a meal. I can still hear my father saying the same prayer. I taught the same prayer to my children and grandchildren. In fact if I am rushed before a meal and forget, one of the grandkids will remind me of the prayer. Do you have a similar ritual in your family? So what’s my point?
It is really a simple, yet powerful, concept – rituals. Do not minimize the importance of rituals in your home. These rituals, similar yet unique in each family, have a significant impact on a child’s development of faith.
Let’s think about some other rituals you might observe. Perhaps you set up a Nativity at Christmas or light candles at Chanukkah. Maybe there are bedtime prayers or a scaled down activity schedule on the Sabbath. Religious symbols might be placed in the home. Some rituals revolve around food – eating kosher, having fish on Friday, giving up chocolate for Lent. This is just a small sampling of rituals in the home but should give you an idea of what I mean.
Granted, religious services can be part of a child’s spiritual training. But what happens in the home is part of a child’s daily life; it’s up close and personal. Home rituals also give you as the parent a chance to model (notice how I weave that concept into most topics) your own beliefs.
Spiritual development in children… yep it’s part of their natural development. It’s part of their moral and cultural development. We didn’t just pick this topic randomly. We selected it purposely because just like physical development and social development, it is a part of your child that will continue to grow and develop over time. It’s the part of your child that plays into how they begin to make sense of their world and the people in it. It’s the part of their development that shapes their values and beliefs about their families, friends, communities and nations.
How then can we foster a healthy spiritual development? How can we help to answer their questions about their world in a positive way? How can we nurture values and beliefs and children’s spiritual development? Spiritual and moral development can be a daunting and abstract concept but as I was looking through various resources I came across this poem and thought I would share.
What is Spirituality?
delighting in all things
being absorbed in the present moment
not to attached to ‘self’ and
eager to explore boundaries of ‘beyond’ and ‘other’
searching for meaning
open to more?
Spirituality is like a bird; if you hold it to tightly, it chokes; if you hold it too loosely, it flies away. Fundamental to spirituality is the absence of force.
– Rabbi Hugo Gryn
What are ways that you nurture spiritual development in your child?
Questions about religion can be challenging for parents. You may be at ease explaining your own beliefs. But are you equality at ease with probing questions, especially about a religion or belief system different than your own? How parents respond when children ask questions about religion and spirituality can impact their youngsters’ behavior.
During April, we will discuss how parents can help children as they begin asking spiritual questions. As we discuss the research on this topic, join the conversation on the blog. Tell us about your own attitudes about religion and how you are guiding your child in developing a belief system.
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