Gratitude makes a person’s life more peaceful and contented, which are among the qualities required in ensuring that one has a happy life. Unfortunately, like other emotional traits, not everyone is born with gratitude. For many, it has to be nurtured, practised for a period of time before it finally becomes ingrained in them. So what better time to start than in one’s childhood. As the adage goes, “everything starts at home”, so as parents, it is our duty to instil gratitude in our children so that they will hopefully grow into thankful servants of Allah (SWT).
I know it might seem difficult, but children are – metaphorically speaking – like sponges. They soak things up easily. And with good planning and consistency, it can be done, Insha Allah.
Here are my tips on how to teach children to be grateful.
1. Walk the walk
“The attitude that you have as a parent is what your kids will learn from, more than what you tell them. They don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” (Jim Henson)
One of the crucial lessons I have learnt as a mother is that children (even the young ones) are experts at detecting discrepancies, so it is pointless to teach them anything if you’re not going to practise it yourself. With this in mind, we must practise gratitude first as children are better at observing things than they are at listening and it will be hard for them to pick up the trait if they see their parents doing the opposite. So don’t delay! Say your du’as and thank yous, and start making gratitude a part of your lifestyle today.
As Allah (SWT) says: “So remember Me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me.” (Al-Baqarah :152)
2. Always talk about gratitude and try to include examples from the Qur’an, hadith and stories of the prophets
As much as it is crucial to practise gratitude, learning about it in theory will help deepen a child’s understanding on what it is all about. By drawing examples from the Qur’an and hadith for instance, we can show them just how important being grateful is in Islam and the many benefits that come with practising this virtuous trait.
It is said in the Qur’an: “And (remember) when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will surely increase you (in favour); but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe.’” (Ibrahim :7)
In another verse, Allah tells us: “And We had certainly given Luqman wisdom (and said), “Be grateful to Allah .” And whoever is grateful is grateful for (the benefit of) himself. And whoever denies (His favour) – then indeed, Allah is Free of need and Praiseworthy.” (Luqman :12)
The life stories of the Holy Prophet (SAW), his companions and the other prophets before him also serve as excellent examples. Despite the many challenges faced by them throughout their lives, they remained faithful and thankful servants of Allah (SWT).
It is narrated by Al-Mughira (RA) that the Prophet (SAW) used to pray for a long period of time until his feet became swollen. When asked, the Prophet responded: “Should I not be a grateful slave?” (Bukhari)
One would wonder why a person of his stature – whose past and future sins have already been forgiven— would put himself through such hardship. But even though he was not obliged to carry out extra devotional acts, the Prophet (SAW) still chose to perform them.
Why? To express his gratitude towards Allah SWT.
It is thus important that we consistently remind our children of the importance of being grateful; engaging in discussions with them, having them read on this topic on a regular basis and hanging posters on their bedroom walls are a few great ways to do this. It goes without saying that as humans (regardless of our age), we tend to forget easily, and constant reminders are always useful to put us back on track.
3. Expose our children to the harsh realities that are faced by others
On the authority of Abu Huraira (RA) who said: The Prophet (SAW), said: “Look upon one who is below you in status. In this way you will not look down upon the grace of that God bestowed upon you.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Getting our children involved in community service helps to create an awareness in them of the difficulties faced by certain members of our society. Volunteering at hospitals for instance, will allow them to see the challenges faced by the sick that will hopefully instil a sense of gratefulness in them besides developing a love for helping those in need.
Other than that, we can also share videos or pictures depicting the hardships of others – but make sure they’re age appropriate! I know to some parents, this may seem a bit harsh, but sometimes “seeing is believing”. This will show them that despite how big they think their problems are, there are people out there who have it much worse than them.
4. Do not get them too many unnecessary things
It is normal to develop a sense of self-entitlement when things are easily handed to us all the time and the fact is, this does not apply to just children, but adults as well. Usually, it is when we don’t have a lot that we start to appreciate things. Now I’m not saying that we should stop buying gifts for our children altogether, but I do feel that there are times when we should say no to them. Reserve your “generosity” for certain occasions. Better yet, let your children “work” to get what they want. From time to time, have them perform extra chores around the house as a way to earn the things they request.
When children understand the relationship between money, work and purchasing power, they are more likely to value the things they own as they know that these things don’t come easily or freely for that matter.
5. Instil accountability in our children
When our kids – through their own faults – lose or break their stuff and become upset, it is sometimes easier for us to quickly pacify them with promises of replacements rather than to deal with their recklessness. Yes, we mean well (what parent enjoys watching their kids getting upset?), but what we don’t realise is that such action can make them appreciate things less. This stems from their belief that everything can be replaced easily, and the way to counter this is by creating a culture of accountability in our homes.
So the next time your son throws his toy car out of the window and ask you to get a new one, don’t! Let him deal with the consequences of his action. Hopefully, he’ll start appreciating his belongings from then on.
6. Teach our children to list down all the things they’re grateful for
Let’s face it, bad times are a fact of life, and we all go through it, no exception. The problem is when when we’re too focused on our issues and we stop appreciating the many wonderful things around us. It is said in the Qur’an: “And if you should count the favours of Allah, you could not enumerate them. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” (An-Nahl :18)
Listing down some of the things we’re blessed with is a good way to keep things in perspectives. It is also an excellent activity that we can get our children to do, especially when they are feeling down.
For starters, explain and share your list with them just to show how it’s done. Then, get them to write their own lists. They can start with three, and slowly work their way up as time goes by. It might take some getting used to at first, but it works well in reminding us of all the things we’re blessed with but we sometimes take for granted.
7. Break the whining habit
Whining is a really bad habit because it can sap our sense of gratitude since we’re always talking about the negative aspects of your problems. Plus, let’s be real – it doesn’t solve anything!
To kick this habit, we can teach our children to firstly, try and look at their problems from a positive light or as opportunities to better themselves. Next, encourage them to talk about these problems in a way that focuses on problem-solving rather than on just complaining. Doing this will make them feel less helpless and more positive about their situations, indirectly causing them to be more grateful. After all, positivity results in happiness and gratitude is a quality that all happy people have.
To sum it all up, the poet Rumi once said: “Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.” The fact is, there is not enough words in the world to explain about the many benefits of being grateful, but I personally feel that this quote nearly captures them all. Sometimes, all it takes to make the world a better place to live in is simply a shift in the way we look at things. So start making gratitude a focus in your family today. Life will be a lot more satisfying once we start to appreciate all the things around us.
Juliana Zulhijah is a mother of four from Malaysia who loves to read, write and bake during her free time. She blogs at www.kitchenincidents.com