Motivate Your Children Through Teaching Gratitude

By General Education Advice, Student Mastery

Student Motivation:  Perspective Shifting

Let’s engage in a thought experiment.  This is not meant to be a spiritual exercise, just a lesson in gratitude. Imagine whatever it is that you consider your essence falling out of the sky and into the body of any of the 7 billion people on Earth.

If you ended up falling into your circumstances, you hit the jackpot.  How do I know?

You are reading a website in order to figure out how to help your children succeed academically.

That you are reading, on a computer, with Internet access, and likely live in Connecticut (probably in a nice part of Shoreline Connecticut) gives you tremendous economic opportunities compared with most of the 7 billion people on Earth.

That you are reading a website related to figuring out how to help your student-children succeed academically means that you have been blessed with family and that your children are college bound.  That puts you in further rarified territory.

What’s the point?  Perspective.  Most of us parents take our good fortune for granted.   And, in comparison to our children, we know better.  We’ve lived long enough to see people with real challenges and perhaps even went through a few ourselves.

Our student-children, for the most part, have grown up in idyllic, suburban and/or Shoreline, Connecticut, attended either great Connecticut public or private schools, have been involved in numerous school activities, and, with hope, have developed a good group of friends.  They are safe, well-fed, and well educated. They, too, have hit the jackpot.

Start with gratitude.  That’s a phrase I will use when engaging in perspective shifting exercises with my students.  For example, in our SAT classes, I know our students grumble about having to take such a long test.  Before I begin a particular SAT class, where our students are put through a process of doing several SAT sections in a row to build their test taking stamina, I ask what seems to be a non-sequitur: have you read I Am Malala or A Long Way Gone?

Many students, particularly female, have heard the story of Malala, the Pakistani girl, who stood up to the Taliban in efforts to get educated.  She was shot in the face for her desire to go to school.  Fortunately, she recovered and has become an inspiration to girls throughout the world.  She should also be an inspiration to students in Connecticut.  Most would feel ridiculous if they complained about their school work or a long SAT test to Malala.

Similarly, A Long Way Gone, tells the story of Ishmael Beah, an African boy solider who endured the hell of Civil War, threat of constant violence, and deaths of family and friends.  His quest to escape eventually led him to what he considered a gold mine: an American college.  Those Connecticut students complaining about writing college essays and applications would quiet down very quickly if they met Ishmael.

I recall my own moment of perspective shifting shame.  I was an attorney in a large Washington, DC law firm.  Along with fellow over-privileged associates, I was complaining about the mundane work we were assigned.  One of the associates was quiet as we sat in our offices with free gourmet food, secretaries to attend to our needs, and a beautiful view of the Potomac.

I later learned that he had a been a “lost boy” from the Sudan.  He had been adopted by a US family and, from his perspective felt that he was luckiest person he knew.  He had escaped a slaughter in his village, a trek across parts of inhospitable African dessert, near starvation, and a couple of years in a refugee camp.  Now, he was a highly paid attorney in Washington, DC.  And, there I was complaining about the horrors of boring legal work.

If I could go back in time and smack myself, I would.  Instead, I am just going to bask in the feeling of gratitude.