Teaching Kids to be Grateful for Hardship
This is a hard topic for adults so I know that teaching kids to be grateful for challenges and hardships in their own lives is difficult. However, in the current climate of Covid, economic downturns, schools in crisis, divisiveness among so many different groups, not to mention the many personal losses that families have suffered, I think it is more important than ever to find something to be grateful for. This is more than remembering to count your blessings or creating a gratitude journal, although both can be helpful. Instead, being grateful must be cultivated as a perspective or a state of mind. It doesn’t mean that we try to forget or ignore the challenges and difficult times that we are all facing. Instead it means looking at the situation from a problem solving perspective where we find the opportunities that are possible even in the midst of challenging times. One way to do this is to follow the examples of others who have turned personal hardship into positive opportunities and learned from them.
One example is Dan Miller of 48 Days to the Work You Love, He is an author and a career coach who helps clients who are dissatisfied with their work, find or create work they can love. In one of his podcasts, he talks about his childhood. Dan grew up in a Mennonite family where money was considered evil and poverty a way of life. There was no running water in his house until he was in the 8th grade. He worked hard on the family farm and was not allowed to watch television, listen to music or enjoy social or sporting events. He didn’t have any support for attending college as education past high school was considered dangerous and unnecessary. Despite all this adversity, Dan is grateful for the lifestyle of his childhood. Out of it came an independent spirit and love of reading and books. He learned to earn his own money, to foster an entrepreneurial spirit and create his own opportunity. He believes that he is the successful entrepreneur that he is today because of the adversity that he faced in his childhood.
How can we teach kids to be grateful even when times are hard? How can we develop a can-do-mindset that tackles problems rather than giving in to them?
Here are three important concepts to teach:
- In every adversity, there is an opportunity. It’s not always easy to see. It takes a certain perspective, even sometimes the advantage of hindsight to find it. Learn to ask: Where is the opportunity in this situation? Can I learn something new? Can I find a new and inventive way of doing something? Can I learn from past challenges?
- A life free of failure is also a life free of success. If you take a risk, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you always learn. Failure is a greater teacher than success. Learn to ask: What can I learn from failure? How can I apply lessons learned?
- Difficulties make you more empathetic to others, especially those who have experienced similar ones. It can help you forge close relationships. It also gives you an additional way to serve others by sharing what you learned. And finally, many times when we stop focusing on ourselves and instead focus on helping others, we not only change our attitude but our perspective. Learn to ask: Who can I help with what I know and what I’ve learned?
In her book, Thrivers, the Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine, Michele Borba, Ed.D. identifies optimism a one of the qualities necessary for resilience in kids. We can help kids develop an optimistic spirit by teaching them an attitude of gratitude, even when times are tough.