Thursday, December 18, 2014

Teaching Gratitude to Children and Teens with Special Needs

It is frustrating to give a gift to a youngster, only to have him declare how much he hates it. This situation can discourage even the most loving relatives from spending the holidays with your family. There are many benefits to taking the time to teach your child how to show gratitude, including

  • Your youngster will be happier expressing grateful thoughts than disparaging ones. 
  • It will be easier to forge social connections and make friends when others feel appreciated. 
  • You will have fewer inappropriate reactions that embarrass everyone associated with the situation. 
  • Family members will experience more peace in the home. 
Teaching gratitude is a process, not an event. You begin with direct instruction, follow through with practice, and give plenty of exposure to reinforcing experiences. 

Begin by teaching why we should be grateful for the blessings in our lives. You may want to share stories or examples of those who do not have the things we take for granted, such as running water. Next you will explain why we should feel and express gratitude. Have your youngster help you make a list of people, experiences, and objects they feel make life better. This list may include Grandma for her hugs, time to swing because it makes the child calm, or appreciation for a warm bed at night for a good rest. Add to this list from time to time as individual values are seen. 

Help your child develop empathy by teaching her to give. They can help select clothing and toys they've outgrown to donate to friends or a charity. Try to take her with you to make the donation so she can participate more fully. Also give her the opportunity to make or choose appropriate presents for family members--many children with special needs reach adulthood without having given anyone else a present, therefore missing out on joyful experiences. As you help her make selections, talk about the excitement the recipient will feel, and how she would feel if her gift was rejected. Try to move the focus from getting to giving. 

Now is the time to practice gratitude. You will need to be the role model--try some of the following suggestions:
  • Pretend to receive a gift you really like, one you aren't particularly crazy about, and a third that is not appropriate for you. Demonstrate polite expressions of thanks for each and allow your child the chance to role play as well. 
  • Talk about gratitude and thanks often, and have family members leave notes of gratitude for each other.
  • You may want to write things you are thankful for and place them in a gratitude jar. Then you can use the slips of paper to form a gratitude chain and see how long it reaches. 
  • When you have the opportunity to do service, talk about the gratitude of others. 
  • Encourage your child to give thanks
    • make visits to those who have helped him
    • write notes to teachers
    • make or purchase small gifts
You may also want to rehearse appropriate reactions on a regular basis, including thanks for food preparation, any help or service she may receive, and give lots of praise and recognition when they make others feel appreciated. 

Finally, you may want to limit the commercialism of the season for all your children. Less commercial television exposure should reduce the "want" list. Try to spend more time making lists of acts of service, shopping for others, or providing gifts of time. 

How do you teach gratitude in your home?