In an age where over-indulged celebutantes get more press than major philanthropic acts, it’s understandable why teaching children about gratitude may seem difficult. However, such a lopsided representation of reality also illustrates how very important it is to instill this virtue in today’s youth. Thankfully, gratitude is an infectious state of mind making it relatively easy to teach.
Experts believe gratitude has several benefits. Researchers have found evidence that thankfulness can also enhance health and wellbeing. These studies have shown daily gratitude exercises can lead to higher levels of mental alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and energy. Additionally, grateful people reported less depression and stress, a greater likelihood to help others, increased frequency of exercise, a deeper sense of feeling loved, and more progress towards personal goals (McCullough and Emmons, Dimensions and Perspectives of Gratitude).
Nurture a personal sense of gratitude.
In order to instill gratitude in children, parents must incorporate it into their own lives. The idea is to find gratitude for both the prosperous and the challenging times. Take a moment to review your own attitude. Are you a positive person? Are you truly thankful? If not, make a list of even the smallest of things for which you are grateful.
Though some people will have to dig deeply to find reasons to be thankful, it’s always helpful to recognize that even the most challenging of times provide gifts to those who are receptive to them. Once this is done, incorporate this new appreciation into your daily life and allow yourself to have a more positive view of your circumstances. By doing so, you will find it not only helps you see more of life’s blessing, it also becomes easier to openly share them with others.
Model the behavior.
Making gratitude a priority in your life sets an example to children by teaching them that, no matter what, there is always something to be thankful for. Publicly express gratitude for what you have, the people in your life, and their efforts, whether successful or not. It is also important to express your gratitude for you children. When children experience a parent’s thankfulness, it does more than raise their self-esteem.
By modeling this behavior, parents teach children how to be appreciative. According to Brenda Nixon, author of Parenting Power in the Early Years (Wine Press Publishing, 2001), “Parents must not only give the gift of time to allow tots to begin thinking of others first, but they must model how to express gratitude by saying things like, ‘Thank you’ or ‘I appreciate that’ so young children overhear and copy those statements.”
Create family traditions about Thankfulness.
Thankfulness can be easily incorporated into daily family life. Consider taking time to have each person state something for which they are grateful. This can be done before meals, at bedtime, or at the beginning of the day. These statements can be as simple as, “I’m grateful we all woke up on time because now I am able to enjoy a meal with you.” During these moments parents may be surprised by what they learn from their children. Not only will it educate parents about their children’s priorities, this group focus also provides opportunities to show children other reasons to be grateful.
Writing about gratitude is another option. Parents can sit with their children to pen thank you notes. These acknowledgments can reflect gratitude towards a kind gesture, as well as gifts. Take the time to help your child think about the subject, then put the sentiment into words. Others may choose to keep daily gratitude journals, either public or private, in which each member of the family can write messages of appreciation.
Provide lessons in effort.
Most children are naïve about what it takes to fill a home with material possessions. Helping them better understand the work required to purchase these items will nurture their appreciation for what they already have and what they will receive. By offering children opportunities to secure goods for themselves, parents allow them to experience the work required to gain new things. Consequently, these experiences give children a sense of the value of other’s efforts.
One way to achieve this is by granting children more freedom as they assume more responsibilities. It is important for parents to acknowledge the child’s efforts and to work together to decide upon a suitable reward. According to Nixon, children may also do extra household work to earn rewards or use a portion of their allowance to help purchase a desired item. “When kids participate in gaining ownership, they value the possession,” Nixon states. “When parents hand over every material possession their child grows up with an attitude of entitlement, rather than gratitude.”
Make the ongoing effort and reap the benefits.
As gratitude becomes a priority in your family, it will become habit and the effects of this new focus will become apparent. Besides improving emotional health and wellbeing, the resulting happiness will filter to your children. Ultimately, this attitude can affect every member of your household by breeding cooperation, empathy and compassion; all of which are important components for creating a happy home and children who are better equipped to manage the challenges of growing up.