Teaching your child to be thankful can be harder than you think. After all, we can't force our children to be grateful. What we can do, however, is set an example. Many children tend to model behavior seen around them. There are several simple practices you can involve your family in that will instill values like gratitude and charity into your child's every day life.
Why is Gratitude Important?
- According to Barbara Lewis, author of What Do You Stand For? For Teens, learning gratitude teaches children to become sensitive to the feelings of others, developing a sense of empathy. Grateful kids look outside their one-person universe and understand that other people do things for them. "On the flip side, kids who aren't taught to be grateful end up feeling entitled and perpetually disappointed," says Lewis.
- Gratitude goes way beyond etiquette. According to research by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, "People who practice gratitude feel considerably happier (25%) than those in a control group; they are more joyful, enthusiastic, interested, and determined."
10 Ways to Instill Gratitude in Your Children
1. Say Thank You.
When thank yous are incorporated in your vocabulary at home, a lifelong practice begins. Even if it's for simple things, such as passing the salt, your little ones will fall into the habit of being thankful.
2. Help Others.
Encouraging people to come together and form a sense of community can help inspire a sense of appreciation in your child for what he has and what he is capable of doing for others. “By helping others in need, we are able to realize all that we have … helping someone else in need is a great way to help children experience gratitude,” says Janelle Buchheit, school counselor and founder of New Heights Coaching for Kidsstates.
3. Role Play.
If your child is too shy to say thank you in a social setting, she can pretend to teach her toys to do so while you play along. Practice makes perfect!
4. Create Routines.
A regular question, "What are you most thankful for today?" can be turned into a bedtime routine or serve as a weekly dinner ritual. Just getting your child to dwell on how much he already has will leave him more content.
5. See the Good with the Bad.
Buchheit explains how to demonstrate to children of all ages the ups and downs of life. She instructs parents to draw peaks and valleys and to label them with their children. Then “let your children know that life is rarely a perfectly straight line.” More importantly, “Let them know that your family acknowledges the valleys but chooses to spend more time looking at life from the peaks.”
6. Set Expectations when Shopping.
This can help leave your child more satisfied when it comes to shopping. Melanie Etemad of Bryn Mawr, PA, shared a useful approach that her husband, a psychiatrist, came up with when their daughter Elyse was two: "We’d say, 'Today is a look day. Just like going to the museum, we enjoy the beautiful things, but we aren't planning to buy anything.' ... We also tried to ensure that there were more look days than buy days, specifically to inoculate against the idea of always buying things, knowing that it breeds discontent. Now, at age six, Elyse knows that most of the time when we go out, we are not necessarily planning to buy anything and has the habit to ask if today is a look day or a buy day."
7. Continually Give.
Make sure you show your kids how to set aside toys and clothing in good condition. Bringing those items to deserving causes can be a bonding experience for you both. Be sure you to talk about why you're giving with your child.
8. Thank Those Who Serve.
Your example of acknowledging those who make a difference in your life, from the bus driver to the janitor, sends a powerful message to your children. Likewise, organizations such as Operation Gratitude and Blue Star Families remember those serving in the military.
9. Celebrate the Simple.
Parents often underestimate the simple joys of childhood. Adopt a childlike attitude, and turn simple blessings into special events. Braun suggests, “Have family experiences. Eat a meal under your dinner table. Laugh together. Play games together. Laugh some more. How grateful you will feel to have one another!” Braun reminds parents to view experiences as fabulous gifts and that “people often forget gifts, but they never forget experiences!”
10. Be Patient.
Kids can't be forced to show appreciation; it's a process. But your gentle efforts and examples will eventually instill gratitude as a way of life. And for that, your kids will always be thankful.
Books such as The Giving Tree, Have You Filled a Bucket Today?. and Mama Panya's Pancakes offer simple, powerful metaphors of virtues.