by Sarah Saeed
Gratitude is recognizing and acknowledging good experiences and outcomes resulting in a state of appreciation. It is an emotional state as well as a dispositional trait. As Muslims, we believe that the source of all blessings in our life is Allah (SWT) and therefore all our gratitude must be directed towards him. Feeling gratitude towards Allah is an integral part of our religion and is manifested through acts of obedience.
There are numerous psychological studies that emphasize the benefits of gratitude on our mental health. In corroboration with this, our religion Islam also places a strong emphasis on being thankful to Allah; yet we observe rising levels of entitlement and ingratitude in our children and teens. This leads to feelings of dissatisfaction, disappointment and sometimes even disconnectedness and anger at Allah.
So how can we as parents support our children in cultivating gratitude?
The first step is leading by example. Role-modelling a culture of gratitude in our household with sincerity is one of the most important steps to inculcate similar values in our children. We must embody feelings of gratitude in our daily lives. It is worthwhile to note that this is easier said than done because we as humans often struggle with ingratitude despite knowing the significance of gratitude in our faith. Thankfully cultivating gratitude is an active process and can be increased over time by consistent efforts and practice.
We can cultivate gratitude by making a habit of expressing our gratitude to those around us and role-model it for our children. Abu Huraira (RA) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said,
“Whoever doesn’t thank people has not thanked Allah “(Ahmed, 7939)
Often times parents find it far easier to criticize or mock their spouses instead of appreciating them, be it because of a power struggle or due to cultural reasons. We should look to initiate a culture of appreciating our partners, house help and others around us as this will provide a good example for our kids.
An exercise that we can do with our kids is starting a practice of reflecting on three things in our life that we are grateful for every night. This will train our minds to consciously shift focus on our blessings and connect it to the source, Allah (SWT), thereby increasing our feelings of gratitude as well as love for Allah.
We should also avoid comparing ourselves to others and encourage our children to not fall into comparison traps. Constant comparison with others can keep us in a perpetual state of discontent and leads to ingratitude and even depression. Abu Huraira (RA) narrated that the Prophet (PBUH) said,
“look at those who are lower than you (financially) but do not look at those who are higher than you, lest you belittle the favours Allah conferred upon you “( Bukhari, Muslim )
Therefore, it’s extremely important that we as parents do not compare our children with their cousins, friends and peers. Kids who grow up with all these comparisons often struggle in accepting where they are in life and who they are. Instead of constant comparison and perfectionism, it’s important to acknowledge the blessings that already exist in our life, which include our children and the unique gifts they are endowed by Allah (SWT). Allah says in the Quran,
“If you give thanks, I will bless you with more“ (14:7).
This verse is a beautiful reminder to keep thanking Allah so that we are blessed with more blessings and Barakah in our lives.
It is also important to have conversations with our older kids about the concept of entitlement as it is one of the root causes of ingratitude. We are not entitled to anything in this world as everything belongs to Allah and He chooses with His infinite wisdom what is best for whom and when. As parents we need to find a balance in the level of gratification we give our children as both under and over-gratification can be harmful. For example, providing instant gratification all the time can lead to a sense of entitlement in which children start taking things for granted. This eventually leads to the development of feelings of ingratitude.
Spending time in nature can also support us in feeling gratitude toward Allah (SWT). Paying attention to the clouds, watching sunsets together, noticing patterns on leaves, or how tall the trees and how majestic the mountains are all awe-inspiring experiences. Prioritizing spending time in nature and inviting our kids to join in noticing and connecting the beauty of our earth to the creator of it all, Allah Subhan Allah, will facilitate them in acknowledging Allah’s endless bounties and feeling gratitude.
It is also important to recognize that children will have a natural limitation when it comes to feeling and expressing gratitude and therefore, we need to keep realistic age-appropriate expectations. We also need to be mindful not to use gratitude as an excuse to shut down our kids when they come up to us with big emotions like sadness, anger or frustration by telling them off with phrases like “be grateful” and “don’t complain”.
Holding space for their feelings, connecting with them and meeting them where they are will make it relatively easy for them to be receptive to our efforts to develop a personal connection with Allah and feel grateful. Telling them off with “be grateful” when they are distressed, on the other hand, is very unlikely to instil feelings of gratitude.
While making efforts to inculcate feelings of gratitude in our children, it is important to remember that gratitude is not just felt in our hearts but cultivating gratitude towards Allah entails that it reflects through our actions also. Our daily prayers and giving back to the community and the underprivileged population are some of the basic ways to translate our gratitude into action. We can consciously facilitate our kids by engaging them in social welfare causes with us and sharing their gifts with others.
Last but not least is to never underestimate the power of duas for our children by way of intentional focus and efforts of developing gratitude towards Allah in our children.