For years now I've been asking my eight-year-old daughter, Lexi, the same question before we say goodnight: What are you thankful for?
Sometimes, it's unicorns or some other fairyland creature. Every once in a while, she'll dig deeper and tell me she feels lucky to have food on our table, the clean water at our disposal, or the warmth of our home.
As she's gotten older and the days get busier, a lot of the time she responds, "You."
Let's face it, young brains have a day full of information overload, just like adults, and telling me she's thankful for me, I've learned, means we are whizzing through the hours without really connecting.
This nightly routine actually helps me become more present as a parent and human being. How? Hearing her responses allows me to check in with myself and our family dynamic. If she, night after night, is telling me she's thankful for me, it's partially out of sleepiness, sure, but it also lets me know whether or not we are having enough conversations about the world around us.
It's so easy to rush through the day and nestle into a comfortable routine. Kids thrive on routine but, when I stop and think about what she's thankful for, it's typically a reflection of our interaction at home.
I'll never be the parent that says, "There are kids starving in Haiti, so eat what I cooked for you!"
I've been to Haiti and have seen this truth, but even so, that's not the way to awareness. In fact, these comments can potentially bring feelings of guilt and sadness rather than incite compassion and gratitude.
Instead of comparing our lives to others and barking at one another to use less water because there are major droughts in the world, we should illustrate these points indirectly through stories, books, videos, and art.
When kids first learn to write, as my daughter is currently doing in third grade, they're told to "show not tell." This idea shifts easily to parenting. For example, when your child doesn’t want to eat what you’ve made for dinner, it’s easy to get upset because one, you made the food and two, you just don’t want to hear whining. However, what if we took a moment to turn the complaint into a conversation?
Try initially taking a silly approach and modeling a response like, “Well, this is what the chef has prepared tonight, but if you could eat anything in the world, what would it be? Maybe next time we can have cake and ice cream for dinner? Is that better?” Then transition into something more thoughtful. “You know, I wish I could’ve make enough to have leftovers to bring to the local homeless shelter. I know they are always looking for food donations. Let’s make a meal and bring it by sometime. Your choice!”
At first, you may get a sideways look from your child, especially if he is used to a very different response. But the more we're able to use a moment here and there to instill kindness about the world around us, the more apt we are to create a generation of movers and shakers.
Or, at the very least, a kid who might possibly eat their dinner. (Please? Thank you.)