Gratitude is important for adults and children alike. Not only is it good for our bodies, but it also makes us happier and less susceptible to depression, makes us more resilient, and is good for society.
For children, gratitude is an important lesson in their development. Increasing gratitude strengthens their ability to form social relationships, especially during middle childhood, as that is the time when children make the most rapid advances socially.
How to Raise a Grateful Child
With children, your actions are their most influential teacher. This means that raising a grateful child starts with you. How do you treat your child, how do you show gratitude, and how do you treat those around you?
Your actions will speak volumes to your child. If you have a grateful heart, they’ll develop one too. Remember to consider not only showing gratitude to friends and those outside the home, but to your children and your spouse as well.
- Show thanks in front of them. Thank your child for doing their chores, thank the barista for your coffee, thank your cat for being so cute. Go on a thanking spree! Be specific when you can, since this will help your child connect the actions they performed or witnessed and the “thanks.” This will help them begin recognizing areas in their life when they can be grateful.
- Talk about it. Take a moment each day to point out something you’re grateful for in your life and explain why. The more they know about gratitude, the more likely they are to integrate it into their life.
- Show gratitude. Show your child that there is more to gratitude than just saying thanks. Provide examples of this by writing thank you notes, sending a thank you token to someone, showing up with a host/hostess gift when someone invites your family to dinner, bring cookies to the fire department or police station to say thank you for their service, or leave a thank you gift in the mailbox to thank your mail carrier.
- Start a gratitude ritual with your family. Take turns at dinner saying things you’re thankful for from the day. You can also ask your child to name three things that they’re thankful for at bedtime or on the car ride home.
- Make a “day of the week” tradition. On Sunday, talk about how you’ll express gratitude throughout the week. On Saturday, write a note to someone to express your thanks.
- Celebrate a year of gratitude on New Year’s Eve. Each week, get your family together to write something they’re grateful for on a piece of paper. Have them sign their name and put the piece of paper into a special jar or box. Each New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, bring out the box and read each piece of paper to remember the things you were grateful for that year.
A Recipe for Gratitude
Based on research from the “Raising Grateful Children” project at UNC Chapel Hill, gratitude as an experience has four parts:
- What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful
- How we THINK about why we have been given those things
- How we FEEL about the things we have been given
- What we DO to express appreciation in turn
When you’re talking to your child, try to ask questions that help stimulate all four parts of the gratefulness experience.
- What is something that makes you feel grateful?
- Why do you think you’ve been given this special gift/experience/blessing?
- How did that experience make you feel?
- What are three ideas to show appreciation for this? (Then, if appropriate, choose one to do together).
This is perhaps the most important part of the thankfulness practice. Many parents focus on making sure their children remember to say their “thank yous,” but this is only part of the process of real gratitude. Remember to NOTICE-THINK-FEEL-DO, and you’ll be on the road to success!