6 Ways to Teach Children Gratitude

Come autumn, a lot of families turn their thoughts to gratitude, with many sitting down and to give thanks. While Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday, there are simple ways we can make gratitude a part of our family’s daily lives.

Some days, life can be pretty overwhelming. Aside from the usual day-to-day of raising a family, holding down a job, and household chores, there are the inevitable challenges that life throws at us.  An illness in the family, aging parents, job loss, and more are all struggles most of us will have to face at some point. But even during difficult times, somewhere, deep down, most of us know that there is much to be grateful for, which is good because gratitude helps us see beyond the little things to the bigger picture. When we take the time to feel grateful and to give thanks we become reenergized, more joyful, more resilient, and less negative.

Passing onto our children the ability to have a sense of gratitude is important for their own well-being; it’s now believed that gratitude can unlock the secret to living a healthier, happier and more fulfilling life, and studies on gratitude have determined that a sense of thankfulness may be a building block for strong moral behaviour.

6 Ways to Teach Gratitude

Like so many things in life, what we do as parents will be reflected in our kids. The same goes for gratitude. So here are six suggestions on how to bring a sense of gratitude into your family’s life.

  1. Keep a family gratitude journal of things you’re thankful for.  It might be a chalk-board in your kitchen, or a book for everyone to write in. Or for young children it could be pictures they draw telling what they are thankful for.
  2. Use please and thank-you. Often, as parents, we tell our children what to do but we forget to use our own pleases and thank-you’s.  So instead of telling them to take out the garbage, requesting with a “please” and following up with a “thank-you” teaches your child to do the same.
  3. Find a gratitude moment.  Perhaps during a family dinner, or as you tuck them in for bed at night, ask your child what they are grateful for today and why.  And tell them what you are grateful for and why.
  4. Express gratitude to your children for what it is they said or did that you are thankful for. Just be sure it’s about effort or kindness, not how pretty they look or their great grades.  It might be “I really appreciate how you helped the neighbour carry in her groceries” or “how you helped your brother with his homework”.
  5. Help others.  Giving back to your community through action is one of the greatest expressions of gratitude our children can witness.  Telling them that you’re doing this “because we have been so fortunate and I am so thankful” will help them understand the connection between  gratitude and giving.
  6. Avoid being overly-critical. We’re only human and things can get us down, but it you can point out the silver-lining of a situation, then you’re doing a great job role-modelling gratitude.

Four Types of Gratitude

Gratitude is a much more complex emotion than simpler ones such as anger or happiness, and like many behaviours it’s developmental and changes over time. There are four types of gratitude that evolve during a child’s lifetime.

  1.  Verbal gratitude. This is the first form of gratitude that children learn; the “pleases” and the “thank-you’s”.  For young kids this is more about good manners than a deep sense of gratitude, but it is the beginning of something bigger.
  2.  Concrete gratitude. This is more common in kids between 8 to 12 years of age and is usually expressed with kids showing their gratitude by giving something that’s valuable to them but not necessarily to the person they give it to. But let’s admit it, there’s something very, very sweet about an 8 year old giving their ailing Gramma their favourite stuffy to cuddle in the hospital.
  3. Connective gratitude. This is most common during the late tweens; it’s when a child can actually understand and express what someone means to them. It’s the age when you might get a beautiful mother or father’s day card with a hand-written expression of deep and and heart-felt love and gratitude.
  4.  Finalistic Gratitude. Developmentally, children begin to feel and show this type of gratitude during their teen years (and beyond of course). This is when your child feels a real sense of gratitude combined with a wish to repay others, in other words they have a desire to give something back. However, If you find your teen never seems grateful, don’t fret. This too is developmentally normal. Feeling grateful for what others have done means recognizing that you are interconnected with others and that conflicts with the need to feel independent, a major developmental phase of the teens years.  But here’s the good news. By their 20’s, those teens who seemed so ungrateful will naturally begin to recognize what they are thankful for…including parents and family.

The reality is, we have an abundance of things to be grateful for. A beautiful sunset, a bird’s song, our children’s smiles, is just the beginning. By taking note of all the things we have to be grateful for each day, we are making our own lives and our children’s lives happier and more meaningful.

Related Post & Podcasts
Empathy & Children
Conscious Children 
Teaching Children Respect for Others

Written by Joanne Wilson, Host of The Parent Report podcasts and national radio show
Source: “Beyond politeness: the expression of gratitude in children and adolescents”,  http://bit.ly/1R3WGik




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