Monday, October 26, 2009

Raising grateful kids by Mary Joy Canon-Abaquin, Ed.M.

This month's issue focuses on Giving Back. Don't you love the cover? It's Karen Davila and son Lucas sitting amidst the relief goods from World Vision. So fitting for the theme and a post-Ondoy/Pepeng issue. One of my favorite articles in this issue is the one written by Joy Abaquin, founding directress of Multiple Intelligence International School, where my daughter will go (back) to for high school. (I had to pull her out for a couple of years because I had to save up for the tuition. Even then, Teacher Joy and I remained in touch, and MI is welcoming Sim back with open arms.)
I met Teacher Joy eight years ago, when I was looking for a "big" school for Simone. I didn't want her to attend a traditional school; I wanted her to go to one more aligned with my values, and how I wanted to raise her, and how I saw her adapting to these not-so-traditional times. I remember Joy sitting at the very first desk in the school office. Both of us seemed nervous and a little stand-offish with each other; two women unsure of the wonderful, caring partnership they would embark as mothers and as co-advocates for progressive education and parenting.
As years passed, Joy became privy to my, er, private life. She knew I underwent a separation, an annulment, financial troubles. She supported me and Simone all throughout, in any way she could, as principal of the school and as an educator. In return, I "worked" for MI, writing their press kits and helping them with their school programs. It was a sweet deal -- one I would have never gotten from other schools, I'm sure. Joy writes for me for the very first time in this issue of HIPP. It's about teaching kids gratitude. Gratitude is more than saying "thank you." It's a whole attitude and approach to life. You can immediately sense the warmth and sincerity of the woman whilst reading her words. Enjoy :)

Gratitude makes a great attitude—teaching kids the value of thanksgiving enables them to appreciate life’s little pleasures more

By Mary Joy Canon-Abaquin, Ed.M.

It was a long weekend and we were headed to the beach. My eight-year-old daughter gives me a big hug and says “Thank you for bringing us to the beach! You’re the best mom in the world!” My 12-year-old chirps in, “God is good! Life is good! Thank you God!” I too, say I silent prayer, “Thank you God for giving me such wonderful daughters!”
As an educator, I recognize how challenging it is to teach children the act of being grateful in a money-centered and material world. I hear teens complain all the time that their phones or iPods are not the latest models. Unconsciously, parents overindulge children with their whims as an expression of love, failing to teach them an attitude of gratitude. It is perfectly normal for children to come into this world as egocentric but our relationship with them shapes their attitudes and understanding of themselves and others. It is never too early to teach children how to be grateful.
At age two or three, children can talk about being thankful for a toy, pet or people in their lives. A toddler can hold their favorite toy, kiss it and say “thank you mommy for doggie.” At age four and five, children begin to understand that being thankful does not only extend to material things like toys and rewards, but for love, caring and acts of kindness as well. How we model gratitude in our own lives show children what they can be thankful for.

Teaching gratitude: A lifelong skill
Tom Batalla, a psychologist and cranio-sacral therapist, explains the importance of teaching children gratitude. “Gratitude makes us kinder and more generous to others, less materialistic, more forgiving, better able to deal with stress, and less prone to envy, resentment or greed. Taking all these good things together, studies show that it can add 6.9 years to your life.” Research by Dr. Robert Emmons in their Gratitude Research Project of University of California Davis (Trish, may nawala bang words dito?-em) showed that people who are grateful report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress. If we could teach our children to be grateful, we are helping them to be more positive and better able to cope with life.

As simple as 1-2-3
1. Model gratitude
Model thanks. Kids do what they see their parents do. The best way to teach your child to be grateful is to model it. Thank your child for their hugs. Thank your helpers when they serve you. Thank the cashier when you receive your change. Look out for the smallest thing to be grateful for. When they hear you say things like, “Thank you for a sunny day!” or “How lucky I am to have yummy dessert today!” they too will learn to be grateful for the little things in their lives.
Establish rituals. Parents at the Multiple Intelligence International School share how they encourage gratefulness in their children. Herald Cruz, a father of four, blesses his children before they go to sleep and thanks God for each child. In our family, each of us says thank you for a blessing we received for the day before we sleep. Claudine and Raymart Santiago are hands-on parents who want to raise Godly children. They go out of their way to make their preschoolers, Sabina, 5, and Santino, 2, feel that they are special by going out on individual dates with them. This Saturday routine makes the children feel appreciated, and as parents, you can be grateful for your children because you get to really know them. According to Claudine, “Dates should not be about spending money on the kids, it should be about spending time with them. It doesn’t have to be expensive at all!” Family rituals are powerful in modeling gratitude in our homes.
2. The Language of Gratitude
Saying “thank you” in many ways. Encourage your child to say “thank you” to people they come in contact with—yaya, store clerks, janitors, friends, parents of a classmate hosting a party, etc. Ask children to write thank you notes for gifts they receive. Preschoolers can scribble and draw while children in grade school can already express their thanks in writing. Thank you notes do not just have to be for receiving gifts. Show your children that you care about them by writing positive notes for them. I received my child’s report card and to my pleasant surprise, there was a short note from my 3rd grader Anica saying, “Thank you for always being there for me and loving me and caring for me, but not only me but for everyone in our family.”
3. Gratitude in Action
Encourage generosity. According to child psychologist Batalla, “Gratitude is a concrete way of acknowledging and appreciating the good that we have received and giving something back to the source of the gift.” It is as important for children to see gratitude in action. Tess Gecijo, a 2nd grade teacher at the Multiple Intelligence International School, in her lesson on heroism, has been encouraging children for the past seven years to help less fortunate children through a White Elephant Sale of their old toys and clothes. “When children have an attitude of gratefulness, it is easier for them to want to share.”

Make kids help. The best way for children not to take things for granted is to realize the effort that others put into their lives to make it easier for them. Assign them chores at home. Make them pack away their toys, sweep their rooms during weekends, feed the dog, help prepare a snack or even wash the dishes they use. They will realize that all these take effort. It helps them empathize with others who do these things for them and encourages them to be grateful for the things given to them.
Claudine shares that it’s important to be grateful even in times of distress. She says that a grateful heart allows you to see the good side of things. She proudly shares that Sabina has learned this from her because when her brother was sick, she did not want to leave his side. Even if Claudine and Raymart can’t be with their children 24/7, they believe that when you teach your children to be grateful, you know that you are able to address their “heart issues.”
Gratitude teaches our children that life is good. More than polite manners and positive thinking, teaching children gratitude helps them to be happier and more resilient individuals. According to self-help writer Melody Beattie, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more.” My sixth-grader, Chiara, reminds me, “Mom, God is good to us, we should be good to others, too.” It is a way of life we can adapt as a family and a wonderful legacy to leave to our children.
(for the full article, get a copy of HIPP Magazine Nov 09, at leading bookstores and newsstands)

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