Never too young to practice gratitude.
by Kindra Fehr
Gratitude. How do we experience it, express it, and how do we teach our children to live in it? In our home, we started a little bedtime ritual that has become known as, "I'm thankful for animals." It started out as a way to think about and name some of the things in our day for which we're grateful. For the first week or so, my then two-year-old daughter would begin with "I'm thankful for giraffes…" and continue to name every other animal that came to mind, hence, the title of our practice. Next thing I knew, if we finished our nightly storybook and turned out the light she would say, "Oh no! We forgot to say 'I'm thankful for animals!'"
She changes the rules each night. Sometimes, we're only allowed to say one thing that we're thankful for and others it's more. Some nights she announces, "I'm too tired" or "I'm too sad to say I'm thankful for animals." I can understand this. I know in myself that there are times when I just want to feel my sadness or frustration and wallow in it for a moment rather than count my blessings. Yet, for the benefit of both of us, I try to explain that no matter how tired or sad we are, it's still nice to be thankful and it can actually make us feel better.
It's during this ritual that I often have my most proud and amusing moments with my daughter. I have a list of the many things that she's been thankful for; I add to it regularly. The list includes chartreuse, squares, windows, bottles, friends and family (individually and collectively), birthday parties, Disneyworld, and petting zoos. One of the most touching was a few weeks ago when she had come with me to visit a very sick friend. We talked about the fact that his body was not working very well and that some day it would stop working altogether. I helped him brush his teeth with a little sponge on a stick soaked in water which also hydrated his mouth. My daughter helped by handing me new sponges. That evening, many hours later, my little three-year-old said, "I'm thankful that you could clean your friend's mouth and make his body feel better." I was touched that she recognized that our simple gesture was significant to him. I was also impressed that at her young age she found joy in being able to help someone else and was grateful to do it.
Over the last few weeks, I've been in awe of the depth and complexity of her gratitude. Our family has gone through a whirlwind of changes from a big move to overseas travels and at the end of each day she has found little gems in it all for which she expresses thankfulness. At the end of our practice each night, I find myself being very grateful to have her little presence in my life, so innocent and yet so full of wisdom. And, I'm thankful for animals.
Kindra Fehr is an artist and mom to three-year-old Aria Hancock. She co-instructs the Salt Lake Art Center's KidsmART program.