"Mom, can I take these tuna packets to school today?"
“Of course, buddy. Why?”
“We’re collecting food for the local food pantry, and I want to contribute. We’ll still have plenty left.”
“Pal listen, you can take as much food out of that pantry as you’d like to take to school to donate. I’m happy to take you to the grocery store too, if you’d like. We are really fortunate that we have plenty of food to share, right?”
“Yes ma’am. That’s why I knew it would be okay.”
This was my exact conversation with Thackston, our 10-year-old son, this morning when he was preparing to leave for school. It’s November, after all. It’s the time of year when giving and gratitude are top of mind. But, how can we, as parents, incorporate a regular practice of sharing and being grateful? What will it take for our children to think about others and appreciate the lives they lead?
May I suggest two challenges to your kids every morning and three questions to ask them every night?
If you’re like me, then you drive your children to school every day. It’s a battle, isn’t it? Getting out the door with ALL THE THINGS you need plus everything they require for the day, well, it’s A LOT. I’m stressed and exhausted just thinking about it. But, I’m committed to starting their days off well. I never want to leave them at the front door of the school frazzled and frantic, so we try to make the car ride fun, and I desperately want to utilize that time with them to connect.
As we near the school, there are several practices that have become traditions for us when we get to key landmarks on our route. One of those is that we always pray - each one of us - for the day ahead, for each other, for specific needs in our family. But we always start our prayer sharing our appreciation - for the blue sky, for the rain, for safe travels, for the boys’ teachers, for our health, for our home. Whatever it is that day, we start our prayer with gratitude rather than just our litany of requests that we need God to handle. If you are the praying type, I promise that making that one change to your daily practice - starting with thanks - has a significant impact.
But before the boys jump out and begin their school day, I issue two challenges:
- Be Brave
- Be Kind
Why, you might ask, those specific pleas? School is hard for kids, no matter their age. Because of internal pressure and external forces, our kids are stressed, anxious, and over-programmed. They are worried at a very early age about what college they will get into, if they will make the team, if they will get good grades, among many, many other stressors.
So by challenging them to be brave, we are reminding our kids that they can overcome all of these things that they worry about. If others see that they are setting this example, maybe they can help them be brave, too.
And when it comes to their challenge to be kind, I am honestly just trying to raise good human beings. I don’t want them to think about kindness and generosity only around the holidays. Every day, I ask them to look for the kid who is hurting, who is stressed and worried, who has been left out or bullied. I want them to seek out people who need some kindness.
I get told all the time that my kids are kind. Just the other day, someone was sharing with me that they witnessed Thackston sticking up for a little girl that was bullied. That is exactly the example I want my kids to be.
On top of those two daily challenges that remind them to be brave and kind at the beginning of the day, I also ask them three questions at the end of the day.
- What was your favorite and least favorite part of the day? These questions may look to your family like the best and worst thing that happened, or the high and low of the day. Either way, asking this question gives me so much clarity about what’s happening in their lives.
- What did you have for lunch, and who did you sit with? This may sound like a strange question, but this question has been illuminating as my boys have gotten older. If you ask your child “how was your day,” you will likely get a “fine” or some similar answer. This question makes them think more deeply about their day, share actual information with you, and you hear about who their friends are that they are spending time with.
- What are you thankful for today? I specifically add “today” onto this sentence to keep gratitude on their minds every single day. I don’t want it to be something they think about around Thanksgiving exclusively. If you do that, you remember the big things. But, if you remind them to think about it every day, they begin to be grateful for the small everyday blessings that can be easy to forget.
Don’t get me wrong. I love this time of year, and I certainly use it as a time to think through all of the incredible gifts I’ve been given and we as a family are blessed with. This year, my parents’ house burned to the ground and they lost almost everything but walked away pretty unharmed physically. I will have so much to share in gratitude for this year around the Thanksgiving table.
But, I am also working to help my kids understand that gratitude, a spirit of generosity, kindness - all of these virtues that are promoted at the holidays - are things they have the opportunity to do every day of the year.
Life gets so busy. You may be a working parent trying to get to your child’s assembly, a stay-at-home parent trying to stay connected to your friends, a single parent worrying about your mortgage, or a married couple going through counseling. There is so much that stands in the way sometimes, so I hope these two simple tasks can bookend your days with your kids and help you grow and learn together.