Sometimes I complain. Sometimes I zoom in on the negative and forget about the bright side of life, especially when it comes to acknowledging the material abundance I actually experience in my life as middle class white American.
Then I started noticing my son doing it. That’s when I said nuh-uh. I’m not going to let that negative pattern get passed on to my kiddo.
Sow how do you teach kids gratitude? A good way to start is by making it a game.
This solution came to me out of nowhere one day when my little guy spontaneously thanked me for the meal I made him. It was definitely one of those parenting win moments, and I had to do something about it, right then and there. The answer: two jars and a heck of a lot of coins.
The blue jar is the Gratitude Jar. Whenever anyone in the household displays spontaneous gratitude, appreciation, or recognition, a coin goes in the blue jar. Once the jar gets filled up, we use the money to do something together to celebrate, like getting ice cream or going to the museum.
The green jar is the Negativity Jar. Coins go in there when we complain, mope, forget to be cooperative, or use unkind words. When that jar is full, we donate the coins to a pre-selected charity to help those in need.
Having More Doesn’t Equal Happy
It’s not easy to teach kids gratitude in a world of entitlement, where they expect to have every desire met within moments of conceiving of it.
I have to admit that it took me living in Thailand for a few years for the true weight of just how privileged I am to sink in. As a US passport holder, I can go to virtually any country I want. My blonde hair and blue eyes automatically brands me as innocuous, whether at home or abroad.
My Bachelor’s Degree, earned at an American college and paid for by my parents, opens the door to a huge breadth of opportunities not available otherwise. And the mere fact that I speak English is not really a mere fact to the rest of the world. It’s a ticket to a very different life.
Privileged or not, wanting what you have and appreciating the positive in life has been shown on a chemical level to increase satisfaction and fulfillment. The logic is simple; when you focus on what you have rather than what you lack, the feelings of inadequacy, dissatisfaction, and longing dissipate.
We can be content with very little, and studies even show that beyond a certain point of subsistence-level wealth, having more actually decreases our satisfaction with life.
Practicing What You Preach
I especially like the double jar method because not only does it encourage gratitude, it encourages cooperation as well. Double win! And it works well for my kiddo in particularbecause he loves visual, measurable ways to understand things.
Instead of my son being the only one held to the standard, everyone in the household is encompassed in the intention of being more grateful and less, well, complainy. And of course, kids learn best when they see behaviors modeled by the adults closest to them.
If the blue jar gets filled, we celebrate together. When the green jar gets filled, we all have the opportunity to contemplate generosity and what it means to appreciate what we have. It’s not a punishment, but a reminder of how lucky we are to have access to so much in our lives.
It often opens up conversation about all the little gifts we otherwise might not acknowledge, and it gives my little guy a chance to catch me when I’m forgetting myself and getting a little too down in the doldrums.
Above all, my hope is it sets him up to live a fulfilled life of satisfaction, generosity, and appreciation for the richness of the world, whether he’s wealthy or not.