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Teaching Kids Gratitude and Charity in the Face of Adversity

On the heels of Thanksgiving, a time when we underscore the importance of gratitude and giving thanks, it was my kids who reminded me to be extra grateful this year. Our little family had quite the extraordinary year: the birth of the baby in January, my husband’s anaphylaxis episode in February, the baby suffering a series of seizures early in the summer (and as recent as last week) and my big guy starting school, among other amazing fun things in between. In the face of adversity, I’ve, no doubt, exercised that muscle of grace and gratitude. Thankful for family, friends, support and, best of all, good news; I am truly grateful for so many things this year.

But as we continue to prepare for the holidays, this extraordinary year brought even bigger adversities to so many more, especially here in the Northeast. Stories of families who have lost everything, but even worse, families who have lost more than just material things truly put things into perspective. It was my five year old’s candid answer to what Santa should bring him this year, that put a spin on my perspective: “Please tell Santa to give my share of gifts to the kids who really need them.” So, a kid who has had his fair share of the “Gimmes” and dished more down-on-the-ground, irrational demands than I can count, is bearing the biggest gift of all this year: charity.

While I plan to pass the message onto Santa, I’ve also made it my mission to help my five-year-old’s gift of charity come to fruition. Gratitude is a learned trait, and one that we’ve practiced every chance we can get; a heart of gold, though, is most certainly innate.

While we check off gifts on our lists, let’s not forget the gifts of grace and putting smiles on faces in expected ways. At a time when so many families need warmth and care, it’s so important for impressionable minds to know that gratitude goes beyond verbally saying thank you. Here’s are a few ways to share that important message:

Model behavior: As Confucius’ principle and variant of the Golden Rule suggests: “do unto others as you would have them do unto yourself.” It doesn’t take a philosopher or parenting expert to prove the obvious, but kids certainly learn from model behavior. To teach charity and gratitude to kids, it’s important to start at home. Donate used toys, clothes and other goods to local charities. Many food pantries are low on supplies, check out FeedAmerica.org on ways to donate to these organizations. Don’t forget those close to home; if there’s someone you know who is down and could use a pick-me-up, a simple hot meal can go a long way.

Say thanks: Writing thank you cards, once a common practice, has seemingly gone by the wayside as email and texts take over. I’ve fallen victim to letting the obligatory thank you notes slide, but teaching kids to appreciate gifts or gestures, whether handwritten or via email, should not be forgotten altogether. And for those who are wondering what the etiquette experts think of modern-day thank you notes: according to EmilyPost.com, “The rule of thumb is that you should send a note any time you receive a gift, but notes are not always necessary. If, for example, the gift is from a close friend or relative (and it’s not a wedding gift) you can email or call instead if you prefer.”

Volunteer: Volunteering with kids in tow may be tricky, especially when it involves physical labor or clean up. In fact, reports regarding Sandy, here in NY and NJ, are suggesting that cleanup is unsafe for kids. So, when it comes to volunteering with kids, log onto resources such as VolunteerMatch.org; DoSomething.org and RedCross.org to find local efforts.

Share and give: There are a myriad of holiday drives this season, included grassroots efforts to help supply gifts and necessities for those who were affected by Sandy. Since the list for needs is ever-changing, Twitter and Facebook are the best resources for up-to-date lists. Check out @OccupySandy and OccupySandyReliefNYC on Facebook. To reach out to individual families in need, consider “adopting” a Staten Island in need. This initiative, created by my friends and fellow bloggers, Corine Ingrassia and Melissa Chapman hits close to home.

Less is more: As the old adage goes, “less is always more.” When it comes to the holidays—and gift-giving (and receiving) in general—quantifying the excitement of the season shouldn’t be measured in mountains of wrapped boxes and the latest toys. Love transcends material goods. For us, this year, we have no choice but to focus on gifting fewer quality gifts and experiences, and to be thankful that 2013 and the promise of a healthy new year is just around the corner.

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