Gratitudes to Offer Your Children
By Anne Hubbell Maiden



Tradition in our North American culture has it that harvest time and Thanksgiving holidays are a special time for offering gratitude. And they are. In Tibetan culture, teaching gratitude begins with the birth experience and carries on through life. Tibetans believe that birth as a human being is a treasured privilege with unique opportunities to experience reality, grow in knowledge, and develop spiritually, as well as to express a universal responsibility to all life. Here are a few illustrations from different cultures to inspire your own inventions to share gratitudes.

In our home in California, where I help raise my granddaughter Hannah, we have a silent Quaker grace before each meal. We hold hands around the table, and have told Hannah since she was a newborn that this is a time for thanking God for all the goodness of life. Now that Hannah is nearing two, and sitting at table with us, she is often the first to reach out for our hands. Her idea of thanks is usually swift and emphatic, "OK!" or "Thanks, God!" or even "Yay, Hannah!" One day my daughter Lisa went further with her, "You know, Hannah, we can give thanks while we're quiet, too. When you take the breath to speak, you could think OK and take another breath, and go deeper, and keep saying thanks to God in the silence." Since then we've had some precious times of breathing gratitude together. Sometimes, too, Hannah will take our hands at other times, close her eyes, and tell us, "Grace now."

In a friend's house in North Carolina, where a brother and sister are three and seven, each evening before bedtime there is "candle time." Mother, father, older sister and younger brother take their places around a candle which they take turns lighting. Then in turn they share first, things that have happened during their days which need forgiveness of others or themselves. Then they share gratitudes.

In a home in Dharamsala, India, in the Himalayan foothills, a child of Tibetan refugee parents is born. The newborn's first cry is marked by a ritual of touching the tongue with an impression of saffron herb in the shape of the seed-syllable (the sacred sound) of Manjushri, the deity of wisdom. For Tibetans, this ritual marks the first step in articulate speech, which includes clear expression of gratitude for "this precious human life."

In a family tent in Malaysia, Senoi children are taught the value of dreams and the expression of gratitude to heal relationships in the tribe. Each morning the extended family gathers to share their dreams. A child who dreams that a neighbor child has taken a toy may be encouraged to choose something to give the neighbor as an expression of gratitude for their friendship.

As our children grow they are first and most powerfully influenced by how we share with them. As I fold laundry, Hannah loves to hand me each piece, from "Dada's sock!" to "Nana's shirt!" Each offering receives a "Thank you!" as an affirmation, a gratitude, for her spirit of helpfulness.

One morning Hannah was overcome with "Missing Mommy!" (who had gone to work) and seemed inconsolable. After talking about her feelings and wishes, we talked about a choice. She could cry until Mommy came home at suppertime, or she could think of ways to enjoy the day, to tell Mommy, with her gladness (gratitude) that Mommy was home again. "Joy!" she exclaimed, her first time to use that word. We had a wonderful day, unusually filled with joys and gratitudes. Hannah's mother, for her part (like an increasing number of people), writes in a nightly gratitude journal, looking back on her day for things she is grateful for.

These illustrations all reflect principles supported by both scientific studies and spiritual disciplines across cultures, tested over many centuries.

* The principle of transformation of energy: Gratitude has the power to shift negative energy to a positive pole.
* The power of intuition and imagination to release creativity, to solve problems, to promote health from biological to familial to societal levels. The feeling of gratitude often arises intuitively and imaginatively, sometimes beyond rational explanation.
* The nature of flow, the movement of chi or prana, on which the healing methods of acupuncture are based. The expression of gratitude magnifies this flow and expands consciousness.
* The related principle of connection which recognizes the often unseen links between all beings and actions. Gratitude supports this sense of universal responsibility. To experience gratitude is to practice the presence of the sacred.

A friend told me of a recent experience. She was working in a Children's Camp for refugees in Kosovo when a Muslim nine-year-old was heard to say, "A Serb killed my father. And now a Serb has come to me, to care for me and love me!"

Back at home, during breakfast this morning, Hannah asked for "More grace!" After the quiet her father Paul spoke, "Grace is kind of like love. When you're just going along day to day sometimes you forget that it's there. But all it takes is one person to remember."

Anne Hubbell Maiden, Ph.D., psychotherapist and social psychologist, is co-author, with cultural anthropologist Edie Farwell, of The Tibetan Art of Parenting, Wisdom Publications, 1997. She lives in Berkeley, California.

Foundations of Gratitude Gems of Tibetan Wisdom * Each birth connects lives from beginningless time and boundless space.

* Birth as a human being is a treasured privilege with unique opportunities to experience reality, grow in knowledge, and develop spiritually, as well as to express a universal responsibility to all life. * Purposeful rituals at the time of birth honor the event and evoke qualities in a child's development that are valued in the culture.
* The physical and spiritual realms of life are naturally integrated, and the daily unfolding of life is sacred.
* Each new learning, such as the first smile, the first step, the first word, is seen as unique. Because each fresh discovery about life invigorates an infant's energy and contains the motivation for its next step in maturation, it is vital to notice and recall these learnings.
* Ritual celebration of significant steps in a child's development is a core value; it is essential to recognize each step, mark the quality of deep feeling, and honor a sense of connection to the sacred.
* Tibetans emphasize teaching children through imitation, memorization, touch, and movement so the full meaning of the material can seep into consciousness intuitively as well as intellectually.
* Compassion, honesty, and sharing are valued qualities in children and can be instilled in young children through their natural imitation of adults, through discipline as needed, and through recognition and celebration of prized behaviors.
* To be part of a family, to have been given life by a mother and father, is highly prized; to be part of a community of people who share life together at many levels is also considered sacred.

Return to the November/December Index page