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Gratitude

Air Date: 11/23/10 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723, or at cheryl.erwin@sbcglobal.net.    Well, the holiday season is almost upon us--again.  It's a shame, really, since the warmth of Thanksgiving pretty much gets run over by the frenzy of "Black Friday" and Christmas shopping. The stores have had Christmas decorations up since before Halloween and already, despite the economic turmoil we're facing, the marketing push has begun. How much money will parents spend? Which toy will be this year's must-have plaything? Will every child get the toy of his or her choice? Will his self-esteem be permanently damaged if he doesn't? I'm not immune to all of this, of course. When my son was younger, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the hip thing. He wanted the turtles' inflatable blimp, and mom couldn't find one anywhere. Christmas came and went, and he seemed to survive. But I found a leftover Turtle blimp at the grocery store, of all places, a few days after Christmas, and found myself leaving it under our barren tree with a note from Santa claiming that he'd just found my son's toy under the seat of his sleigh. I felt like yet another advertising victim, but my son was delighted. There's a serious side to all of this gift-giving, though. I've noticed that one quality seems to be gradually disappearing from children's lives. It's called "gratitude." I'm continually amazed at how many children fail to say "thank you" these days. And parents notice, too, although they may not always realize what they're noticing. They tell me, "My kids leave their stuff outside, treat it carelessly, and then expect me to replace it when it's lost or broken."  Or, "My kids can't seem to keep their rooms cleaned up. There's stuff everywhere!" And I always want to ask them, "And why is that?" Things come easily to us these days.  By the standards of most of the rest of the world, American families are incredibly affluent, even in these troubled times. And it shows in what we give our children. For that matter, it shows in what we have ourselves. Most of our children have lots and lots of stuff, and a highly developed sense of taste. Many parents, do, too. Many of us work long hours, feel torn between work and home, and want our children to be happy. It's tempting to give children the toy of the moment, the brand-name logo most in fashion, the really cool techno-doodad, or the vehicle of their dreams. But what are children learning when we do? Many children are failing to learn patience. The concept of waiting and working for something is foreign to them because they have loving parents--like us--who give them the things they want. They don't learn gratitude because they've never really had to go without anything.  And why should they take care of their things, keep track of them, or appreciate them when they know their parents will supply more whenever they want? It so happens that I have just the remedy for this problem. It's already on your calendar; in fact, you're probably already planning your travel or menu options. The solution to the gratitude problem is called "thanksgiving"-the act, not just the holiday. What would happen if we took advantage of the holiday before Christmas, the one that seems only to signal the start of the shopping season, to really celebrate what we have to be thankful for? What might happen if we taught our children and teenagers to do the same? Perhaps we should celebrate the 12 days of Thanksgiving. Sometime each day between now and Turkey Day, sit down with your children and invite them to share at least one thing they're thankful for. You might do this at the dinner table or just before bed, but begin teaching your children the fine art of gratitude. You will have to set an example, so begin by thinking of a few things you're grateful for. Here are some suggestions: You're alive, and so are your children. You can smile and feel the warmth of love; many people can't in this troubled world of ours. Our homes aren't being bombed; our children are entitled to an education, and even if you don't like the results of the election, we all get to vote and express our opinions.  If your children can't think of anything to be grateful for, invite them to go stand in their rooms for just a moment and look around. There are several dozen reasons right there for most of them. Perhaps each member of your family could make and contribute one item for the family Thanksgiving feast, and present it with a grateful thought. Cherished family traditions are begun in exactly this way. The holiday season gives us an opportunity to think about what we want our children to learn. Heaps of gifts and flying wrapping paper are fun on Christmas morning, but when children respond with "Is that all?"--and many children do--something is out of balance. As a culture, we need to teach our children to give, to share, and to appreciate what they already have. I know one mom who spends Thanksgiving with her 13-year-old son feeding the homeless. I know another who gives each child one nice Christmas gift; the family then adopts a less fortunate family together and plans a holiday celebration for them. Most of us don't take time often enough to feel gratitude and to give thanks. Perhaps it's time we began. Happy Thanksgiving, and my gratitude to you for all you do. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.