As we near Thanksgiving parents and teachers alike are discussing the importance of gratitude to children. While these are valuable lessons to teach throughout the year, as author Nigel Hamilton stated perfectly, “Thanksgiving is a time of togetherness and gratitude.”
However, living with gratitude is more than saying "thank you." It may simply be a choice, "an affirmation of goodness" in the world, states Robert Emmons, a University of California, Davis, psychology professor known as the "father of gratitude."
As experts point out, though, practicing gratitude doesn’t mean ignoring the bad or negative. Rather, it means enjoying all the good things in our lives and understanding that being grateful brings more happiness.
However, gratitude is not innate. We must be taught to be grateful. What’s more, thankfulness transcends good manners and words. It's an action, and inarguably, parents should be at the forefront of it.
"If we simply tell our kids they need to be grateful, that's not helpful. They don't know how to do that if they don't see it," Robin Gurwitch, a psychologist and professor at the Duke University School of Medicine, told Patch. "If we want to raise grateful children, we need to show gratitude as well."
Once taught, practicing gratitude can lead to more confidence, compassion, and happiness among children. How can we teach children gratitude in a loving manner? Well, here are seven suggestions on how to raise grateful children.
1. Model thankfulness.
“Parents who try to be grateful have children who demonstrate more daily gratitude,” writes Andrea Hussong, director of the Center for Developmental Science and a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “In addition, parents who are more grateful are also more likely to engage in other types of parenting behaviors that foster gratitude.”
“Although modeling gratitude includes expressing your appreciation to others, we also think that children may benefit from seeing their parents model the NOTICE-THINK-FEEL parts of gratitude,” adds Hussong. “Modeling these internal experiences can be as simple as saying your thoughts out loud.”
For example, by discussing their own experiences of receiving gifts, parents can help their children notice not only the gift they have received, but also the deeper meaning behind it: “I love this sweater that Aunt Dottie sent me, but what is really special to me is that I know she was thinking of me when she bought it. This is my favorite color and she knows that. It just reminds me that she loves me enough to go the extra mile and get something that she thinks I will really love.”
Another way you can model gratitude is by saying “thank you,” either verbally or in a note. You can also perform random acts of kindness of offering to help others, like carrying in groceries for an elderly neighbor.
2. “What can we give or share with someone else today?”
One study found that “toddlers exhibit greater happiness when giving treats to others than receiving treats themselves. Further, children are happier after engaging in costly giving – forfeiting their own resources – than when giving the same treat at no cost.”
Simple things like sharing a toy with a sibling could be enough. Or maybe just giving a hug to a grandparent. Children can also give their time and kind words, like donating a toy or writing a letter to a friend.
In short, try to have your children give or share something on a daily basis.
3. Discuss needs versus wants.
Kids can learn a lot from understanding the difference between "needs" and "wants." Just note that young children, usually under the age of four, may have a difficult time making this distinction. However, by teaching our children to distinguish between what they need to survive and thrive and what is nice but unnecessary, we can help them grow.
Also, bringing this distinction to their attention, helps them appreciate all the "add-ons" they are fortunate to have.
4. Establish gratitude routines.
Parents should regularly incorporate gratitude rituals into their daily routines. You might ask your child during dinner \\to share three things they're grateful for. During bedtime, you could read books about gratitude and reciprocatory together, such as “Do Unto Otters” by Laurie Keller.
Another ritual is keeping a gratitude journal either individually or as a family. You might also consider doing activities together, like creating gratitude web art projects that are based on what your kids value.
5. Give your kids credit.
Even if the way your child expresses gratitude doesn't fit your expectations, you can still be grateful for it. After all, children express themselves differently. Some children are more comfortable giving a hug than expressing thanks verbally. And, others may show their gratitude through creativity or by offering to help with household chores.
You can show your child you appreciate his or her thoughtful nature by understanding and recognizing the different ways he or she is thankful. And, most importantly, acknowledging these behaviors so that they’ll repeat them.
6. Volunteer and give back.
Make giving back a family affair if your kids are too young to participate by themselves or don't feel comfortable dealing with strangers alone. Consider finding an opportunity for you and your child to volunteer together, ideally letting them choose, or give to a charity.
Remember, gratitude and giving go hand in hand. And, even better, doing both together will bring your family closer.
7. Look for silver linings.
Aside from acknowledging and focusing on the good things in life, being grateful also involves the negatives. As such, it’s important to teach your child to search for positives despite adversity. Let them know that while life isn't perfect, there are always good things that they can be thankful for -- even when things go terribly wrong.
Overall, teach your children how to keep things in perspective and develop a positive mindset. As an example, it might help to shift the focus to the things your child already has, if he or she complains that the toy he wants is out of stock. Remind them how fortunate they are to have plenty of other toys to play with at home, while other children aren’t as lucky.