The benefits of gratitude are many. From improving life satisfaction to building strong social relationships, a well-developed sense of gratitude in childhood creates advantages that last a lifetime.
How do we teach gratitude? Raising grateful children in today’s society seems to be a difficult task. But by starting early, being consistent, and following these seven tips, you’ll be able to instill a sense of gratitude in your children that will follow them throughout their lives.
1. Be a role model of appreciation. The best way for your children to learn gratitude is to see you displaying it yourself. Be extra-vigilant about showing appreciation for others when your child is nearby. Then, when your child has an opportunity to show thanks for something, walk them through the process of being grateful. “Look! Grandma remembered that you love animal crackers and brought some for you. Let’s thank her together! 1...2...3...Thank you!”
2. Show appreciation for things your child does. It’s important to remember that gratitude is more than just saying thank you - it’s appreciating someone’s special effort to make another person happy. Children often copy what their parents do and say, so again it’s best to practice what you preach. When you child does something kind or helpful, praise their effort and action. “Thank you! You remembered to carry your plate to the sink when you were done with your snack. What a great job you did!”
3. Set expectations on shopping trips. To prevent your children from asking to buy things when you are at the store, set up your expectations of the shopping trip ahead of time. “We’re going in to buy a present for your cousin, a card, and a gift bag. We can look at things that we love, but we’re only buying what we came to the store to get.” If your child asks for something, gently ask if that item was what you came to get, then remind them that you only came to get three things. Be kind, but firm and logical. And whatever you do, stick to your word. Once in a while, plan a shopping trip that allows your child to choose something special to buy, and be sure to tell them that before you go. They will appreciate that item much more after having several “looking only” shopping trips!
4. Demonstrate a positive attitude. Having gratitude means having the ability to see the bright side of any situation. A fun dinner table activity, called Roses and Thorns, provides an opportunity for family member to talk about the good and bad parts of their day. On their turn, each person tells the others about their “thorn” - a challenge they had that day. Then each person tells the others about their “rose” - the best thing that happened. Not only does this allow family members to stay connected, it also shows children that while bad things do happen, we can focus on and be grateful for the good things instead.
5. Focus on the thought, not the thing. Before a birthday party or any other occasion when your child will be getting gifts, it’s important to teach children that gifts are not just things, but thoughtful gestures. Explain to your child that people thought and thought about the perfect gift, all to make your child happy. But sometimes people don’t really know what we like, and that’s ok because they tried their best and we should be thankful that they love us. Remind them that when they thank someone for a gift, they are really thanking that person for loving them and celebrating with them.
6. Find books that depict what gratitude is and isn’t. Books can be powerful learning tools. Children often relate to characters, sometimes even role playing that they are part of the story. By choosing reading material wisely, parents can talk with their children about whether a character is or isn’t grateful.
7. Donate used clothing, toys, and books. Children outgrow clothes and toys quickly, and things that were once their favorites begin to collect dust. Set aside a box for donations. When your child outgrows something, ask them to put it into the box. Explain that those things will go to another little boy or girl who doesn’t have one. “You loved this toy when you were very little, but you’re big now! Now we can give this toy to someone who will love playing with it while they are little.” This is especially effective if you are giving clothes or toys to someone your child sees often. Many times children love to see a younger cousin in one of their favorite outfits!
Remember, nothing happens overnight. But by being consistent with your actions, you’ll help your child grow into a positive-minded, grateful child!