Thursday, November 18, 2010

Teaching an Attitude of Gratitude

Generally speaking, I think we have raised kids who have a healthy respect for what they have and who know that there are millions of people who have much, much less.

Once when Jerame was super small, his Montessori preschool teacher called and could barely tell me why, she was laughing so much. Finally she got it out: a student told her something was unfair, and in a heartbeat Jerame yelled: “Not fair? You know what’s not fair? Having to sleep in a box on the street, that’s not fair!”

Obviously this was not a declaration a four-year-old comes up with on his own. The teacher figured he was repeating something he heard from us, and that we might appreciate knowing that our words stuck with him. We did.

For the most part our boys have remained empathetic as they’ve grown up, even if they’re not as sweet (or dramatic!) about it as they were when they were small. But as the older ones make the leap into their teenage years, sometimes they need a little reminder of how fortunate they are. Can’t have hot lunch twice this week? Poor, poor you, having to eat peanut butter and jelly. Really want new soccer cleats even though your old ones are in great shape? How will you ever show your face in the fieldhouse?

(It goes without saying that our life lessons are peppered with a healthy sprinkle of sarcasm.)

So when I saw this post on craft guru Becky Higgins’ website, I thought it sounded like a good project to work on with the boys. The concept was pretty simple – everyone in the family writes down what they are grateful for on a single piece of paper, which is then framed for posterity.

So I whipped up a fancy little “Grateful” poster, hung it on the side of the fridge, and explained the project to the family. Every day, each of us will jot down something we’re grateful for. By Thanksgiving, the poster should be pretty full, and we’ll frame it, find some wall space and hang it up. If all goes well this year, we’ll do it again next year and hang up the new one.

Joe rolled his eyes, a sure indication that he was putting this idea squarely in the “corny” category, but kept pretty mum for my sake. The boys were full of questions – mostly dumb ones. Some people say there is no such thing as a dumb question. Those people have clearly never met my kids. Suffice it to say that most of the questions started with “Can I write…” and ended with something wildly inappropriate.

That was the beginning of the yelling and nearly the end of the gratitude project. I’m surprised the first entry on our gratitude poster wasn’t “I’m grateful to still be alive, because woohoo, was mom MAD”. But in the end the message was received and the gratitude began.

For the most part the entries have been legit. I admit I raised an eyebrow when Cam wrote down “Call of Duty: Black Ops video game” but I really couldn’t fault him because I had written “awesome technology”. Potato, potahto. I’m pretty sure Beezo’s mind was in the gutter when he wrote “body parts” but I chose to believe he meant his heart and mind, not something a little further south.

And some of the entries have been downright heartwarming: U.S. soldiers, involved parents, good teachers, brothers. Someone with grown-up handwriting wrote “Cyndi” which gave me a big smile. Evan’s entries (until he learns the alphabet and can manage a pencil, we write for him) have been pretty entertaining too: Nana & Papa, apple juice, hugs, Go Diego Go.

As the days to Thanksgiving roll by, the boys are having a harder time coming up with new ideas. But still, the poster fills. I’ll keep you updated.

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