10/03/2014 09:55 am ET Updated Dec 03, 2014

How Can We Internalize Gratitude Into The Growth Of Our Children?

While skimming through my Facebook pages last night, I noticed that there were many of my friends who were challenging others to a certain number of days of gratefuls. This intrigued me. Why would anyone need to be challenged into listing their reasons for being grateful? The lists were lengthy, and they covered a myriad of topics from pets to family members to important events. I do believe that it is important to reflect upon the positives in our lives, but why should it be a "gratitude challenge" that lasts for a specific number of days?

I know that being grateful has so many variations. A small child is grateful for his new toy. A teenager is grateful for that new cell phone. A young graduate is grateful for that first real job. A young woman is grateful for that night out on the town. I could go on and on, but I am not going to. I have just discovered that what I thought was cancer for two and a half months has turned out to be benign. Maybe that sounds mundane, but I am discovering that being grateful means very different things at various stages of life. It is not just the fact of not having to face the end of life too early, but it means facing the daunting tasks that life presents to us. To me life means experiencing the good as well as meeting the rest with a fierceness that intensifies with age.

When I was younger, everything seemed so important to me. When I was a single parent, naturally my children's welfare was at the top of my list. I worried about everything. Would they eat their healthy lunches that I so carefully planned? Would they remember to turn in their homework? Would they get along with each other? Would they make friends with nice children? On and on it went, and I thought that I had complete control over everything. I thought that on some level my worrying would help them succeed. How strange it felt when things did not go smoothly. I was certain that I would have to focus on what I was doing rather than allowing them to go through the natural stages of happiness, sadness and sometimes disappointment.

Wasn't that being a good parent? If they suffered, I blamed myself and tried to fix it. I chalked it up to caring about them so much, but it took time for me to realize how little control I really had. It was really far more about the being than it was about the doing. Their journeys were going to be different than mine. My job was to help to direct them and to protect them. It was not to fix everything for them.

During my years of teaching I observed many children's problems. I understood that parents were also trying to fix their children's challenges rather than helping them in their choices. The real growth takes place when a child learns to problem solve, and to make choices in working through the consequences of his or her actions. If parents think that their child's behavior should always be excused, that child will never experience the feeling of being grateful for their successes. Children need to distinguish between the outcome of making mistakes, and the ultimate growth and strength they draw from correcting them. Then they can be grateful that they are going down the right paths.

What will I be grateful for next? It won't be for only the little things. It will be for everything. It will be for having the opportunity to reflect, to be, to live.