When my mom was a teenager, Grandpa would tease her about the lack of gas in her car’s tank. As soon as the needle passed the middle mark, he feigned panic: “Oh no! Your car is half empty!”
She’d worry and stew until she could get to the gas station and fill it back up. It was years later she realized the silliness of his statement. For although her gas tank was, indeed, half empty, it was also half full. One perspective always left her desperate for more. The other perspective would have reassured her what she currently had was enough.
When it comes to gratitude or a lack of it, sometimes it’s simply a matter of perspective. When August comes and academic, senior picture and athletic fees are due, it’s easy for me to dwell on what we’re lacking. I complain to my husband, “Ugh! We’re broke!”
A half-empty perspective, for sure. The alternative is to recognize I have healthy children capable of going to school and playing sports. Not only that, but somehow we had enough money available to pay for those things. Even if we’re tight until January, we had enough for today.
Teaching your son gratitude involves the ability to provide a positive, grateful perspective that counters a negative one. That doesn’t mean we can’t be frustrated or disappointed or discouraged. Those emotions are part of life. But gratitude decides to endure those seasons with a sense of thankfulness as well.
Helping your son to see “the bright side of things” can be tricky. On one hand, Pollyannaish replies are almost certain to increase his frustration. But contributing to a negative, ungrateful attitude only enables him to continue a detrimental thought pattern. We have to find the balance between empathy and truth. Although I don’t always do it very well, here’s the three-step approach I try to use:
1. Listen and acknowledge his feelings. For example, when your son complains, begin with an “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I can see you’re really upset.” Validation often releases some of the steam. Unfortunately, I’m often more worried about correcting his foolishness and coming up with something profound to say. Slow down long enough to hear him. Then prove you’ve heard what he said.
2. Ask for more information. Sometimes he needs help unpacking what he feels and why. Invite more conversation by stating, “I want to understand where you’re coming from. Can you explain what happened to cause you to feel this way?”
3. Redirect his perspective. Without sounding like a know-it-all, paint a different picture. Ask questions to lead him to different possibilities. Briefly share your struggles with gratitude and how you’re working to be a more positive and thankful person. Talk about someone you both care about who demonstrates an attitude you want to emulate.
You can’t force your son to change his attitude or perspective, but an alternative provides him with the choice.
What’s your biggest roadblock to a grateful perspective? How do you overcome it?