How do I teach my children gratitude?
This is a common question asked by parents. While an “attitude of gratitude” is deemed very important and “wanted” in children by parents, it is not something, usually, naturally learned. It takes effort and practice. The great news is that once you, the parent, get into the habit, it is not difficult and the rewards are a child who exhibits gratitude and often empathy.
There are 9 fabulous and fairly easy ways to help your child learn about and show gratitude.
This seems like a “no brainer.” And I am sure you are thinking, “I have taught my child to say “please” and “thank you.” However, have you told them why? Have you explained that when they request something of someone (please) they are essentially asking that this person stop and put the child’s request as a priority? This is not a bad thing, we all ask for things and we are all happy help others, but we need to honor this person and acknowledges that they are willing to do this, for us.
The same is true of “thank you,” someone thought of your child and wanted to make their life easier or better in some way. Just knowing that someone thought of your child and acted upon it in some way is highly complimentary, let your child understand this. These are loyal actions that deserve heartfelt gratitude in the form of everyday manners.
2. Celebrate and see the everyday
I live in “land of the sun.” Our sunrises and sunsets are phenomenal…almost every single day. We have blue skies that seemingly stretch on forever, uninterrupted. It is so easy to get caught up in my “busy” of each day and not celebrate the “good” if not “great” around me. Help your child see the moments of amazing “ness” all around them each and every day. Here are eight ideas to celebrate each day:
- Antics of pets/animals
- All of the love/friendships around them
- Joy: fun, games, play
- Security: a place/person to feel safe to be you around
- Stories: a way to explore new places and meet new people every day
- Dreams: we can all dream and hope which is lovely
- Senses: explore an item with one of your senses and love that feeling
3. Concentrate on the positive
Life happens to all of us, every day. Your little one experiences drama and trauma, daily, as well. I don’t feel that it is good to minimize your child’s feelings. However, if any of us get ‘stuck’ on a negative track, we, well, do just that, we get stuck. Help your child express their emotions about their happenings through out the day. When they have it “out’ or they have attached emotions to each happening, ask them to find one thing that was really good. Ask questions about it. Try to give it more life in the conversation. If you are using the emotion stickers, find a fun sticker or two for it. If your child is having difficulty finding that one good thing for the day, go back to the ideas for celebrating each and every day.
Why is it important to stay positive?
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine studied 240 children ages seven to 10 and found that being positive improved their ability to answer math problems, increased their memories and enhanced their problem-solving abilities. How can you go wrong with always seeing the cup half full?!
Grab this to help your child with emotions!
Emotions Stickers & Chart
- Teach how to express emotions, easily
- 3 steps to using your Daily Emotions Chart
- Weekly calendar for each member of your family
- 24 mood representations by color and picture
- 48 mood stickers pdf for 1″ Avery Template #36581
4. What do they have in their life?
Help your children to become aware of the bounty in their lives. One of the best feelings is snuggling into your warm bed at night with your favorite pillow and maybe a cherished stuffed animal. The bed can be a place that feels warm and safe. If you read to your child in bed as well, they may associate with with connection to you.
Ask them, how does their bed, room, park, place they play, etc make them feel? Again, I love the emotion stickers, you can assign a sticker for each place. My parents were the generation that said, “You should be thankful for the food (it was always a dinner I hated) because there are kids in Ethiopia who are starving.” And they said this with great solemnity and guilt. I think you can associate great, positive feelings with places, things, etc in your child’s life without a negative comparison. I also believe this will naturally encourage your child to feel grateful for what they have; you will help them see everything and attach emotion to it.
5. Tell stories
We are who we are in a large way because of those who came before us. I am the result of many immigrants in my grandparents generation, on both sides. I am very appreciative of their struggles, determination, and eventual successes. I am also very grateful that their stories, the good, bad, and ugly, were told to me.
I never met most of my grand parents, they died before I was born. However, their stories were shared with me. In turn, I shared them with my boys. I found out the stories of my husband’s family and I combined our stories when helping our children understand our identity. I wanted our boys to be grateful to those who worked so hard for them, and all that come after them.
6. Share how grateful you are for your children
Children love stories about them growing up. They love to be the main character in the tales that caused humor or great relief or even incredible mischief (I think my boys laugh over these the most). You can use the stories to show and tell them how much meaning this gives your life and how grateful you are to have them in it.
You can also incorporate daily ways of showing and telling them that your life is better because they are in it and just say a “silent” thank you each and every day. (This is not really silent, the child would hear you.) Cheesy? It may sound like it. However, this verbal reminder, this positive affirmation, gives your children security in your affection and it models to them what daily gratitude looks like.
7. Model gratitude
We touched on this in #6. Your children are watching everyone and everything all of the time. They determine what is acceptable and what is not in our society and in your home based on what they see.
This scares me. I am not comfortable with many of the behaviors, words, t-shirts, bumper stickers, etc that are considered “okay” or “funny” in our society.
You have to make a choice. It sounds harsh. You need to determine who you want your children to become and how you want them to present in the world. If you want children who are empathetic and grateful human beings, I honestly do not know that they will see this in our current society. This means you will have to work extra hard to show them, not tell them, what you think it means to be a kind, grateful person.
The best news ever!, you are the most influential person in your child’s life, they will pay attention to your actions.
8. Give back
One of the easiest ways to foster a feeling of gratitude in your children is to give to others. I get it. We are busy. There is actually a parenting style, Slow Parenting that has resulted because of our hectic lives. That being said, the lessons learned by children when a family volunteers together are great.
- Improves mental health
- Increases happiness
- Greater empathy
- Expand social skills
- Reduce stress
- Strengthens immune system
Have conversations about giving. If you donate to your local church, school, non profit, theater, etc, talk to your children. Tell them why you give to the organizations you do. What are you hoping to promote? In your family? Community? World? Show your children that you’re prioritizing the giving of your money, time, and/or talents because you are thankful for what you have and because you want to promote a better tomorrow. This goes back to #3, concentrate on the positive.
9. Acts of kindness
Help your children identify acts of kindness they can do regularly. Others can receive kindness which in turn helps your child feel positive about giving warmth and goodness. Participating in acts of kindness is extremely beneficial for your child and helping them feel gratitude because:
- They feel happier when performing acts of kindness (help them with #3)
- “Helper’s High” is actually a thing! There are more health benefits from helping another than to quitting smoking or exercising!
- More laughter and inner joy
- People who receive acts of kindness are more likely to share kindness, creating a cycle of goodness in your community.
- Results in inner calm, clarity of thinking, and a heart full of love.
Acts of kindness do not have to be huge ordeals. They do not have to be something the family schedules and plans to “give up” a day to commit. Let’s help our children see ways to do the small, everyday acts of kindness that they can do easily!
- Compliment others
- Create a family gratitude list, and share each day with each other
- Help others feel welcome
- Be the person who smiles “good morning” to family members and others
- Write “thank you” notes/letters
- Call a family member for a conversation
- Hold the door for someone and say “hello”
- Wish a person “Good day”
- Listen to a friend of family member
- Identify gossip and consciously do not participate in it
- Place random “nice notes” for people
- Enjoy something (like a book) give it to someone else
Children, necessarily, learn “me” first. Eventually, they are ready to understand that they are a critical member of a unit: family, community, world. It is not a natural step for them to learn gratitude, especially if they are not seeing it around them (media, community, world events). These 9 steps to teaching your child gratitude can help you raise kids that have that “attitude of gratitude”!
“My life isn’t perfect, but I’m thankful for everything I have.” – Charlie Brown