By Meg Bamford, Head of Miriam School and Learning Center
Years ago, I found a second hand Barbie Dreamhouse for my two girls. It was an expensive one complete with furniture and a working elevator. I even found a car for the Barbie carport and a swimming pool. It truly was a Barbie paradise! I was so excited for them to unwrap what I believed to be the best present ever for a 4 ½ and 6 year old girl.
Christmas morning came, they rushed down the stairs and unveiled the opulent abode of Barbie. .. and then within a minute or two, they asked, “Where’s the rest of our presents?” My younger daughter burst into tears and said, “But Mommy, I wanted a High School Musical doll!”
I confess, at that point, I lost some of my Christmas spirit, declared them ungrateful and put myself in “Mommy Time Out” for a few minutes. My Barbie Fiasco of 2007 was directly related to my young children’s underdeveloped ability to express gratitude and my forgetting of their age and skill level. Clearly, there was work to be done in the Bamford Household!
The good news is that gratitude is a learned behavior. By raising children who are grateful, we are able to teach our children to become more attuned to the good parts of their lives, viewing life situations and others positively. I think they are also able to appreciate and celebrate smaller good things in their lives, and acts of kindness. When children do not learn gratitude, they may end up being perpetually disappointed, depressed and entitled. Students can feel hopeless and alone.
Teaching our children the art of gratitude will lead to happiness. Research in the field of positive psychology tells us that 40% of our happiness is determined by our intentional practice and happiness. Our genetic set point contributes about 50% of our feelings of happiness and the remaining 10% is determined by life circumstances. Gratitude is one of the most malleable skills we can teach our children.
When children are able to recognize and articulate the good things in their lives, they have resiliency. The act of saying thank you and really meaning it, is something that provides a sense of acknowledgement to the doer of the good deed. It brings on a "side effect" of a feeling of positivity and well-being to the person making the effort to express their gratitude. During these challenging times of turmoil on the news and busy days, fostering a sense of gratitude for the good things we have in our lives allows children to more easily navigate a situation of difficulty, a change in venue, and perhaps not being able to receive the things they want.
Let’s teach our children that not only is the glass half full, but it actually is overflowing with blessings. When my children were little, every night at the dinner table, each family member would be asked what was the best part of their day. This may take the adults at the table modeling more sophisticated answers versus the same thing every night. I highly recommend it to families because soon, seeing the best part of a day or situation becomes a habit.
Now my girls have grown and are in college. The Barbie Dreamhouse is long gone. As for birthdays and holidays, I still may “miss” finding the perfect gift. However, they thank me for the thought and the kindness of the present. Then they ask if it is okay to return it! And I am grateful I kept the receipt.