Question: How do I help my kids to learn to appreciate what they have? At what age are they capable of grasping such concepts?

Answer: What a wonderful question you have asked, and one with tremendous ramifications on how your child will feel and make others feel. When we are appreciative, we feel good. When we let others know that we appreciate what has been done for us, we make them feel good, too. This is one of those win-win situations that have value beyond our own personal wellbeing – a truly positive ripple effect ensues – so the question is vitally important.

The real point of the matter is that we learn what we live, and nowhere is that more evident than in the way we view life. There are a few tricks to passing on this characteristic, the main one being: it has to be observable. In other words, if you have a positive attitude and are grateful for things, wonderful – but how are your children going to pick up on this unless you are able to articulate it or use it in some observable way? Therein lies the difficulty… how do you show appreciation?

Most people show appreciation by saying thank you, but this is just the beginning of an enriching concept; over time, "thank you" can become but an automatic response that doesn't sufficiently express ones gratefulness. While we're on the subject, I would like to say that being truly grateful for what one has leads to a satisfying life. We have all heard of the saying from Ethics of Our Fathers: "Who is happy? He who is satisfied with his lot." And it is so true. Though being satisfied is somewhat different than being grateful, ultimately both refer to appreciation. Because a discussion of all these concepts could be quite prolonged, I will now stick to the original question of appreciation.

There are several types of appreciation: the personal, the interpersonal and the cosmic.

Personal appreciation: Appreciation of what you have, including your abilities and belongings.

Interpersonal: Appreciating those around you for who and what they are, i.e. family, friends, teachers and even the kind stranger who helps you or smiles at you. Appreciate them for their good qualities – this assigns value to it (ipso facto) - as well as appreciating whatever these individuals do for you.

Cosmic appreciation: Appreciation of the beauty of the world and everything in it, to experience the exquisiteness of a blade of grass or the wonder in an outcropping of rock.

So the first thing I would ask you is: how often do you tell your children how much you appreciate these things, not in a general sense, but as they happen, immediately, specifically and in such a concrete way that they will be able to see it for themselves? Whether it's in word or deed, you are the vehicle by which your children first see the world. Talk to your children; let them know how you feel about things – especially how their actions and the actions of others make you happy. Someone did a good thing to you and the first way to appreciate it is to actually "see" it. Acknowledging this "happening" sensitizes us to be aware of these gestures of kindness and consideration, and is a huge step toward appreciation.

As you create this dialogue with your children around the positive aspects of your day, the things you note and/or the kind acts of others will slowly encourage your children to tell you about their day. You will find that they quickly get used to making observations of their own and can get drawn into acknowledging these acts of kindness very easily.

Comment on acts of kindness as they occur ("Did you see that woman help that elderly man? Wasn't she wonderful? I wish I had been able to move so fast."), or on observations ("Have you ever seen such a beautiful sunset? And right in our own backyard! Let's sit here for just a minute and appreciate these fantastic colors.") This is the most effective way to help children develop the characteristic of appreciation, as children need to see and do things concretely. Therefore, commenting on something they are actually able to see has more effect than something simply described, even though the second method is still worthwhile. As to your remaining question – it is never too early to start. Each child will learn what they are capable of at each age and constantly build on that. As far as learning the art of appreciation is concerned: "The earlier the better, the more lessons the merrier!"

As you explore this dialogue of appreciation with your children, I hope you will have affected your own life as well. By heightening your own sense of appreciation, I hope you and those around you will come to know how blessed you truly are. Wishing you and your family all the best!