8 Ways I Force-Feed Gratitude to My Kids

Years ago, when I was touring through Dallas, I came across Thanks-Giving Square constructed in the 90’s by then-Governor George Bush. I almost had a seizure rolling my eyes at what I assumed would be saccharine religiosity in the middle of this public space.

But I’d trekked to the spot and figured I’d absorb it all.

So I kept reading. And I was really impressed by the architectural design of this square at the heart of Dallas.

Further, never before had I stopped to think about the etymology of “Thanksgiving” (to give thanks). To that point, I always associated “giving thanks” with that certain day in November or religion. Not as an everyday practice.

As I looked and reflected and read more in the square, I noticed it was actually devoid of specific religious overtones.

Lo and behold, it was profoundly illuminating.

Taking time to reflect and give thanks, however religious it may feel, is good for our souls. In our warp-speed, instant gratification lives, we NEED to slow down, reflect, and realize how good most of us have it. As much as we’d like a new car or more money or more fabulosity in our Instagram feeds or more time to Netflix ‘n chill, the fact is – we really have it good.

That’s the way I feel.

During the last 2 years of covid, I’ve regularly said “My gratitude outweighs my bitterness…though my bitterness cup is pretty damn full.” So I really do try to focus on the gratitude.

And I try to force-feed the concept of gratitude to my kids.

Yeah – force-feed.

Ask me how that’s going.

It’s normal for little kids to be self-absorbed. It’s easy for them to show empathy – sharing their toys, consoling a friend who trips, etc. But the idea of giving thanks and actively stating their gratitude? That’s grown-up stuff.

So I force-feed and hope that the habit will invade their psyches so they’ll feel gratitude sooner than later.

And I annoy them with the practice of expressing gratitude, taking time in a digital world to force analog reflection.

  1. We take the time to share what we’re grateful for at Thanksgiving. As Pollyanna’ish as that sounds, when else can I elicit such reflection without the eye rolls?
  2. I take them to church. I don’t buy Biblical stories as historical fact, and I don’t insist my kids take anything literally. But lessons in empathy, kindness and gratitude for how good they have it are more easily conveyed when it’s not just me doing the conveying. I use my super-liberal, open-minded, political-progressive church as a second-string defensive to force-feed gratitude to my kids.
  3. One of my kids is in Cub Scouts (I wish I could convince my daughter to join, as well. I’m working on it.) The organization’s focus on service and education helps my kiddo realize all the more his place in the world.
  4. I request they cheers before meals and thank the chef for “this beautiful meal”. Even if it’s by rote and they don’t mean it, the act of saying “thanks” is important. As robotic as they sound, I appreciate being thanked.
  5. They write thank you notes for birthday and holiday gifts. Even though this is under threat of iPad-withdrawal-punishment, and even though very few of their friends do it, my kids will write those damn notes to show their gratitude. If nothing else, they’re grateful for when they’re DONE and that they won’t have to write them for months unitl the next gift-giving time.
  6. We talk about gratitude all the time. Sometimes that’s in the form me yelling “it’d be nice to hear some GRATITUDE!” But we talk about the word, the idea, the feeling…all the damn time. We especially discuss the why behind the what to help them appreciate that things like Veterans Day aren’t just a day off. That it’s a day to express our gratitude.
  7. At bedtime we talk about something that was good and something that was bad during the day. It’s a moment to reflect and hopefully point out the things for which they can be grateful.
  8. We mark occasions by dressing up – if only to make them grateful for not having to do so 99% of the time.

All of the above are hand-me-downs from my own mother.When my mom was angry with me in my selfish youth (as opposed to my selfish adulthood) she would often yell, “All I do for you and this is the thanks I get!?!”
It’s one of those explosive phrases she lobbed at me all too frequently so it became an absurdity in my life and I’d employ whenever mocking her. I can still hear her tone of voice shouting it at me.

And now I use the same term. Sigh. What goes around comes around.

As ungrateful a wretch as I was back then, I hope she’s proud of the way I force-feed gratitude to my kids, now.

Just another way of giving thanks to her.