A: First and foremost, be the example your daughter needs to model. Even though she is not old enough for adult empathy, she can still feel sympathy, be glad and absorb your attitudes. Adopt gratitude as your dominant attitude, and she will follow.
My late mother was a master of this. A few months after my 8th birthday, someone broke into our home and stole all my toys — both old and the new ones I’d received a few days earlier on Christmas. Of course I was sad, but Mama said, “Maybe your toys are in the hands of some kids who didn’t have any toys before. Maybe a girl is cradling your favorite doll right now and is happy for the first time in her life.” Well, this thought made me suddenly feel like a benefactor instead of a victim. I realized that I was the lucky one in the equation, despite my loss.
She taught me very early to think of others as a natural extension of myself. When I was a preschooler, we’d throw packs of cigarettes to the men working on the chain gang. In this activity, she linked excitement and adventure to the act of giving. This made me even hungrier to serve.
There are lots of ways you can infuse your family culture with gratitude. At the dinner table, have family members tell what they were most appreciative of during the day. Before bedtime ask your daughter to count her blessings. Instead of having her name possessions, frame it this way: “Who are you thankful for? What are you thankful for beside your favorite toys, etc.?” Require that she draw a thank-you picture or write a thank-you note for every gift received. The goal is to initiate a way of thinking, a habit of thankfulness.
In that vein, make a Gratitude Tree during the holiday season. Place several branches in a vase, and have tags nearby. As your daughter heads out to school each morning, she can write a blessing on a tag, and hang it on the tree.
She also needs to work in order to earn privileges and special possessions. For example, you can require that household chores be done during the week before she can go to the skating party on Saturday. The key here is that you must stick to your guns and be consistent. The moment you give in, the little ingrate inside her starts to roar. I call it the Entitlement Monster. Don’t feed the monster!
Another strategy: Get involved with local charitable efforts. As a family you can volunteer at a food bank, humane society or homeless shelter. Help her go through her closet and remove items that she doesn’t wear or use any more. Have her place them in a bag, and then go together to the charity’s drop box. Once there, guide her in imagining the people who might benefit from her donations.
Continue to expose her to the wider world, a place where folks don’t have the advantages that she takes for granted. Groom her to have an outward approach to life, and you’ll prepare her for a life writ large. Remember that nothing ushers in opportunity and abundance like a thankful heart.
Most importantly, you try to imprint a spirit of appreciation in your daughter because it will be the rock she stands on later. When adversity comes a calling, she’ll find boundless resilience through gratitude.
As I reflect on my own hardscrabble childhood, I’m thankful for so much, especially for the things I lacked. Now there’s a sweet savoring of the simple treats once denied — and an ever-present awareness that I am blessed and highly favored.
I’ve been looking for just the right branches for my Gratitude Tree this year. My mother is in the roots of that tree. After all, she planted the seed by showing me that the greatest joys come through loving others.
To continue the discussion on the gratitude-joy connection, join me Nov. 16 for “She Who Laughs: A Master Class in Joyful Living” presented at the Marietta Museum of History. For more information, visit shewholaughs.brownpapertickets.com.
Send your questions to
Lauretta Hannon, a resident of Powder Springs, is the bestselling author of The Cracker Queen—A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life and a keynote speaker. Southern Living has named her “the funniest woman in Georgia.” See more at thecrackerqueen.com.