Gratitude is about more than an automatic “please” and “thank you” response when someone does something kind for you. Teaching children gratitude is about helping them learn to understand that in order to receive, someone else must give. It means when someone does something for someone, there is thought, effort, and sacrifice that goes into it.
Teaching children gratitude helps them understand that doing things for others (good or bad) can affect that person, and that with service and love you can truly change the world for the better.
Gratitude is also recognizing your blessings and being thankful for what you have so you can always appreciate what you attain.
Sometimes it’s easy to mistake gratitude for manners. After all, it’s easy to teach a child to say “thank you.” But teaching children true gratitude—helping them discover and understand the feeling of gratefulness for the people, things, and activities in their lives—is much more difficult.
Why is gratitude so important?
While many of our Kids Village Values of the Month teach confidence, working hard to achieve goals, or working well with others, gratitude is a little different. Gratitude isn’t just about being a successful contributing member of society, it is also about teaching a child how to live a happy, beautiful life.
While we know it is important to be gracious to others when they are doing something meaningful for us, we don’t necessarily always think about why this has such a great impact on ourselves and others.
If you never take the time to appreciate what you have, you’ll never be happy no matter what you achieve. Cultivate a habit of graciousness and you are cultivating a mindset of joy.
Not only does gratitude make the giver feel happy and fulfilled by being able to contribute their time, service, or compassion to others; it also helps the receiver feel happy because it gives him or her a perspective of enjoying everyday life.
How gratefulness contributes to happiness
You’ve probably heard the concept that you will never be happy until you can be happy with what you have now. But take a moment to really think about that… Striving for progress and excellence is essential to human life and interaction, but without gratefulness we will never truly be happy, no matter how much we attain.
Several studies, including one conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, show that gratitude has a direct impact on happiness levels–sometimes as high as 25 percent. While many of these same studies show that children may not immediately benefit from gratitude practices, cultivating the habit can still have a positive influence on them in their lives in the future.
Gratitude also helps children connect to something greater than themselves
Children are born with a mindset of self-preservation, which means they’re mostly focused on themselves and making sure their needs are met. It’s our job as adults to help them find ways to connect to the world around them, and one great way is by teaching children gratitude.
Since gratitude is typically felt for people, objects, or states outside of the self, tangible or intangible, understanding and expressing gratitude helps children connect to the world around them.
Tips for teaching children gratitude
1. Show gratitude to your child
There is no better way for your child to experience how having gratitude expressed to them feels than consciously expressing gratitude to them for their actions, love, or service. Being able to experience the expression of gratitude gives them a reference point in expressing their own gratitude.
2,. Be an example of gratitude
Make sure your child has regular opportunities to see you express gratitude to others. Whether it’s a family member, a grocery store clerk, a neighbor, or a friend, make a habit of expressing gratitude sincerely and often and you are setting an example your child will follow for the rest of their lives.
3. Verbalize your gratitude in front of your child
Let your child hear you speaking graciously about what or who you are grateful for and why. While it’s important to express gratitude to others, this speaks more to expressing gratitude for the blessings you have. A good way to incorporate this habit of gratitude in your family is to instill a habit of discussing your blessings at the dinner table every evening.
Take our 25 Day Gratitude Challenge
This December, we challenge you and your family to participate in our 25 Days of Gratefulness Challenge.Make a goal to accomplish one gratitude practice each day. This can help jump-start instilling gratefulness in your home, not to mention it’s the perfect time of year for teaching children gratitude.
- Talk about all the things you are grateful for.
- Donate food to a local food drive.
- Make cookies for a neighbor you’ve never met.
- Do something special for a family member.
- Write a thank you letter to your teacher for helping you learn.
- Write a card for a service person thanking them for their service.
- Let your child pick a new toy to donate to Toys for Tots
- Bake a special treat for your local fire department or police station.
- Make a handmade card for an elderly person in your neighborhood.
- Write a thank you note to someone who has done something special for you.
- Brainstorm how to make Christmas extra special for a friend or family member.
- Do something special for a family member or pet.
- Give a hot bagged meal to a homeless or struggling person.
- Talk about how each family member contributes to the household.
- Let your child donate change to the Salvation Army bell ringers.
- Help your child choose a gift for someone special.
- Draw a picture of something you are grateful for and share why.
- Help mom or dad cook and thank them for making meals for the family.
- Tape change and a “Happy Holidays” note to a vending machine.
- Leave a special treat for your mail carrier.
- Write a letter to Santa’s elves thanking them for their hard work.
- Talk about something someone did for you today.
- Write a letter to Mrs. Claus thanking her for helping Santa.
- Make special treats for the reindeer to thank them for helping Santa deliver gifts.
- Write Santa a letter thanking him for making Christmas special.