When I was in second grade, my family went through a hard year financially. We moved across the country and we were surviving on a school bus driver’s income. Luckily, we had a roof over our head, thanks to a family friend who had taken us in, but I remember eating a lot of soup and buying second-hand clothes for $1.00 a bag.
I never wanted my children to experience the shame that comes from comparing yourself to others and feeling that others are looking down on you. As an adult, I had the privileges that allowed me to provide my children with a home that they have always lived in and an abundance of food, clothing, and toys. As they grew, I wondered if there was a downside to never knowing financial instability. How could I teach them to appreciate what they had, spark their desire to help and serve people who are facing challenges, and right injustices?
When my mom wanted to take my kids to deliver toys to children in need for Blue Santa, I was excited for them to have a first-hand experience where they might recognize their privilege and develop empathy for other people’s struggles. I remember my daughter coming back with wide eyes and excitedly telling me about a large family that lived in a small trailer and how happy and appreciative they were. I could tell it had made a big impression on her. It became a tradition that my kids eagerly awaited. Still, I wanted to do more than one yearly service experience.
Studies show that the benefits of gratitude for kids and adults include better mental and physical health. We are happier, sleep better, and have less stress and better resilience when we practice gratitude. Young children need lots of chances to see gratitude modeled, be of service to others, and be encouraged to reflect on what they are grateful for. We often ask children to talk about thankfulness around Thanksgiving, but how can we work toward developing empathy year-round?
• Daily sharing at a meal about something each family member is grateful for.
• Finding ways as a family to help others through donations or time.
• Practicing random acts of kindness and expressing appreciation when you see or receive acts of kindness.
• Taking a gratitude walk and using your senses to notice and appreciate nature.
• Giving your child age appropriate chores, working together as a team, and giving specific feedback, for example, “You set the table. That was helpful!”
Gratitude is especially important during this stressful and uncertain time. My prayer for our school family is that we can nurture gratitude in ourselves and in our children, not only during the holiday season, but throughout the year.
Gigi Khalsa ,