How to Effectively Teach Kids to Appreciate What They Have
As a parent who wants your highly carnivorous child to eat his vegetables, you have probably tried this ominous guilt trip tactic at dinnertime: "Think about the homeless who have nothing this good to eat!" But, chances are, the line hasn't succeeded in prompting your little one to gobble up his greens.
Another scenario: On a typical Sunday afternoon, you bring your kid to the local zoo. For the first time, he finds himself face to face with tigers, eagles, and alligators. You hoist him up high so he can see all the animals while you "ooh" and "ahh" to spark his attention. Yet, strangely, he just does not seem to be interested.
The crux of these conundrums lies in appreciation, which, like gratitude and discipline, is a set of behaviors and emotions within a complex psychological framework. Teaching appreciation to your children is a process that grows with and complements their development as a person.
Appreciation is a sensitive awareness of the positive aspects of one's own life. When coupled with empathy, which is the ability to understand and relate with another person, the capacity for appreciation takes time to develop in a child. When your child is unmoved by the sight of starving children, it does not mean that your five-year-old is an unfeeling little creature. He is simply thinking and acting his age.
What is the best way for parents and educators to instill a sense of wonder and gratitude in children?
Help children act their age. For instance, a toddler will most likely be attracted to tactile objects that engage their senses and employ their motor skills – so draw their attention to things that stimulate those faculties.
Be specific. Rather than taking your children on whirlwind tour of the garden, zero in on a single object that they can focus on and admire, like a birdbath or a flower shrub. Being concrete in language is also an important method to teaching appreciation to kids.
Teach by example. It's as easy for children to pick up good habits, like courtesy and politeness, as it is for them to uncritically imitate the negative ones.
Be creative. Encourage kids to explore parks, zoos, museums, and recreational spots like beaches. At home, parents can broaden their children's capacity for genuine appreciation by engaging them in playful and creative activities, like treasure hunting.
With proper guide and rewards, the children's innate curiosity can boost their enthusiasm for new experiences. If children sustain that sense of wonder, they would not lose that feeling and say, "Wow, there's a whole world out there!" As their cognitive and emotional faculties expand and grow, they become children willing to learn about the world.
For parents, who eventually have to address their children's questions about the ill ways of the world, teaching appreciation will not only get kids to eat their vegetables – it will develop a sense of perspective that will progress from words to action.