The Sanskrit word santosha means contentment. Contentment is a slippery idea: If we say that we are not content, or feeling discontented, there are those who will look upon us as being ungrateful, or needing to work harder. If we say that we are content, there is sometimes the illusion of complacency. How can we teach our children gratitude and contentment, when we often struggle with our own relationship to contentment and what it means?
In order to teach something, it is important to fully understand it ourselves. One of my favorite definitions for the word contentment is “an ease of heart.” This implies that the need to struggle has been lifted, and we can flow with the waves of life. As parents, if we remember the first time that we settled into a chair embracing our newborn children, then we can remember the magical moment when we felt not just an ease of heart, but also a filling of the heart.
Children are naturally pretty content with whatever activity they are absorbed in at the moment, but with the challenge of so much advertising teaching them to ‘want’ more, how can we as parents help them to maintain the contentment of living in the moment? The holiday season is a perfect opportunity to explore this with our children. During Thanksgiving, it is customary to speak of that which we are thankful for in our lives. Thankfulness for what we do have, and an awareness of the richness of the familial bond can help bring a sense of safety and contentment to our children. Here are some simple activities that you can try at home to help cultivate gratitude, and ultimately contentment.
Toddlers: Ask them who they love. They will often say mommy, daddy, grandparents or the family pet. As parents, we can draw an outline of these people and pets, and let them color it in. Place it on the fridge, and bring it to the holiday table. Not only will children have pride in their artwork, but they will have a budding awareness of the richness of family love. Just a little heads up on this tip, hearing your child talk about who they love can lead to tears of joy in mommy and daddy. Have a handkerchief nearby.
Grammar School Kids: Now we can start to ask our kids who and what they are grateful for. Younger kids can paint a picture of those that they are grateful for and share it on Thanksgiving. Older kids can write letters of gratitude to whomever they feel grateful. This is also a time when we can talk about our philosophical and spiritual beliefs. If your child says that they are grateful to God, Divine Spirit, Mother Nature; have then write a letter to the Divine. This is an opportunity to enrich the feeling of belonging, as well as being loved, protected and guided.
Teenagers: Meditation and pranayama are fantastic tools for teaching santosha. Next time you are headed to your Yoga class, call the studio and see what age requirements they have for practicing. Many studios will allow participants ages 13 years and older to attend class. Or there may be classes scheduled for this age group. The meditation, the deep breathing, as well as postures, can promote a sense of gratitude. Talk with your teenager after class about what they enjoyed, and what they are grateful for. Feeling grateful for time together, grateful for a strong healthy body, or other qualities mentioned, is a way to segue onto the topic of contentment. This can be especially important during this stage of life when many kids are facing body image issues, issues with bullying, and issues of acceptance.
Let us remember all that we are grateful for in our lives, especially the miracle of our sons and daughters. As we start to grow in our own feelings of gratitude and contentment, we model this for our children, and teach them about an ‘ease of the heart.’ We can also show our children simple ways to express their gratitude, and ultimately, their feelings of contentment.
Let our hearts overflow with thankfulness ––Colossians 2:7
Desi Bartlett MS, CPT, has been teaching health and wellness for more than 20 years. Originally from Chicago, she has a degree in kinesiology and her master’s degree in corporate fitness. Desi holds advanced certifications in Yoga, personal training, group fitness, and is a certified pre- and post-natal fitness specialist.