Building a Foundation of Hope By Teaching Gratitude
It’s difficult not to tell a child to ‘Stop feeling sorry for yourself’ when they are clearly having a pity party. What most of us don’t understand is that abused and bullied children aren’t always going to tell us about it. Feelings of hopelessness deepen when we cajole them to ‘perk up,’ Is there a way to encourage children to develop an attitude of gratitude? Can we offer the tools to help them build a foundation of hope? Children who have lost hope will never seek help.
Saying ‘Thank you’ Encourages Friendships
We tend to concentrate on teaching our children to show gratitude as a way to teach them manners. If this is their only connection to the real meaning of gratitude, we have failed as parents.
I won’t negate the importance of saying ‘thank you’ to someone who has done something nice. It certainly helps children make new friends, but is that enough?
If a child hasn’t learned the differences between their three meals a day and (as Mom used to remind us) the starving children of (name a country), they don’t understand what gratitude means in their daily lives.
Children who can’t learn why they should be grateful for the blessings they already have will never feel compassion for those less fortunate. Hope is an elusive dream when a child has no concept of what it means to lose all hope.
The Legacy of Abuse
You’ve read the same reports I have. A certain percentage of abused children will grow up to also abuse others. We were reminded of those statistics when the news on February 13, 2017, reported that they arrested Jerry Sandusky’s son Jeffrey for sexually assaulting two minors.
You can frequently find a correlation between someone who suffered abuse in childhood with those arrested for child abuse, drug abuse, criminal actions, and mental illness. We don’t talk about the two-thirds of the abuse victims who never engaged in any of these unacceptable activities as adults.
Can Gratitude and Hope Make the Difference?
Being able to show gratitude improves self-esteem. One thing I can’t dispute is the fact that my self-esteem was extremely low in high school. I felt like everyone was better than I was, but there was one underlying emotion that offset those feelings of worthlessness.
I felt real gratitude when I went to my friend’s homes to know they were safe. Even though I was only seven when the abuse started, I never believed these things happened to everyone. Clearly, I believed that if I could only learn to be a better child, the abuse would end.
I was so grateful that no one else was suffering like I was. It was upon that foundation of gratitude that I was able to begin to hope for a better tomorrow.
The Emotional Gratitude Journal
I’ve never really asked anyone else if they were bored during church services when they were children.
There wasn’t any daycare in the church basement when I was little, so we were expected to sit quietly in the audience with all the adults. I knew I was there to worship God, but I didn’t exactly know what that meant.
I loved the songs and the prayers for people I knew.
The scriptures were usually short, and I could mostly understand them when I was in grade school.
They Taught Me to Pray
But…the sermons were long and put me to sleep. Somehow, I couldn’t keep my mind on them. So I decided to use that thirty minutes of quiet time to say my prayers and thank God for all the things I was thankful for during the previous week.
I didn’t have a journal. No one taught me to do what I did or to record it.
It seemed natural to sit in the church as I listed all the things that made me happy in my head for God to hear.
I thanked God for each and every good thing that happened in my life the week before. Unfortunately, I never mentioned the terror I felt or the abuse I suffered.
My understanding was that we went to church to praise God. I look back today and realize how unprepared I was as a child to ask for help!
Through boredom, I began to build a foundation of gratitude every Sunday. That foundation eventually allowed me to again hope for a normal life and a safe future.
Gratitude overcomes Trauma
Behavior Research and Therapy/Science Direct reported on a 2006 study which focused on Vietnam War veterans. The conclusion of that study indicated that soldiers with higher feelings of gratitude had much lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Can gratitude be a major player when it comes to our emotional resilience?
People waste far too much time feeling sorry for themselves. They spend their time worrying about all the things they don’t have instead of being grateful for what they do have. Never once during my abuse did I ever think about hurting someone else. My wish was to protect others not to share my horrors with them.
I wasted four years of my life feeling sorry for myself after the car accident. Regrettably, I didn’t allow myself to feel gratitude for being alive when that life held so much pain and no joy. I forgot my foundation and ignored my God by not showing gratitude that I was still alive and that my husband and children suffered no serious injuries in the wreck.
It wasn’t until I began to thank God for what I did have, that the healing began.
Bad Habits Hold A Child Back
Teach your kids to stop holding onto those old grudges; it will only prolong their pain. Also, you need to coach them as soon as they understand that they should practice gratitude and let go of their anger.
They need to learn not to compare themselves to others. Each youngster is unique in this world. Embrace who they are and acknowledge and be grateful for their goodness and strength. Instruct them to do the same.
Those who don’t embrace gratitude grow to become materialistic adults. It’s that “Me – Me – Me” attitude that is the undoing of so many who may have reached the pinnacle of success, but who can’t maintain it without the support of those around them.
We are incapable of becoming spiritual beings if we don’t enthusiastically support the real meaning of a grateful heart.
Those who are greedy, envious, and self-centered will never understand what it means to feel hopeful in their daily outlook. Narcissists will never become acceptable leaders, but instead, they will lead through creating fear and confusion in others.
Let’s face it:
Gratitude teaches our children to be more optimistic about life.
If we can’t teach our future generation the real emotions behind feeling grateful, they will never achieve the fortitude to make it through the rough spots in life.
They’ll become incapable of trusting that there’s anyone out there who can help them when they’re in trouble.
It will be impossible for them to develop feelings of self-worth.
They’ll become accustomed to restless nights and too frequent tummy aches, just like their adult counterparts.
I leave you with these words:
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.
Author, Kent M. Keith