Something I think we all hear often is that “Kids these days don’t appreciate anything”. In a time where children in the US have access to more opportunities than ever thanks to the technological age, it can be a real challenge to instil a sense of gratitude in our children.
With the increasing popularity of mindfulness and taking time for emotional wellness, we are developing an even greater appreciation for the value of gratitude to our daily life. Research suggests that practicing gratitude has benefits for not only emotional development and wellbeing, but both mental and physical health from childhood throughout life.
With this in mind, this guide will talk you through some simple ways that you can encourage gratitude for kids.
Lead by Example
We all encourage our young babies to say “please” and “thanks” when they are learning to speak, which is a great starting point for encouraging gratitude. But as children grow and understand new things, showing them how we express gratitude to others can influence them to do the same.
Showing children when they are appreciated is a great way to relate the feeling of gratitude to specific actions, which will promote their understanding of the concept. Telling them “Thank you for bringing me your plate to wash, I am grateful for your help”, for example, shows them that their completing this task had value for us. This will encourage children to think about gratitude and how they can show it to others.
We can also show our children when we are grateful to other people. For example, when you’re getting your kids’ teachers those end of year presents or writing thank you cards, why not talk them through why you’re doing this for them? This will help your child to understand the types of behaviour that promote gratitude and the different ways that we can show it.
Support Emotional Literacy to promote Gratitude for kids
In order to understand gratitude, children need to have a good grasp of emotions.
To encourage emotional literacy, we can make space for emotions as a family and ensure to give children the tools to name and address their full range of emotions. There are many everyday methods to encourage emotional literacy in our children, including:
- Reading stories and talking about the emotions of the characters in the story, and what the cause of these emotions could be. This encourages children to consider the cause and effect of different circumstances on feelings. The result for gratitude is that children will be able to link specific events with their own feelings of gratitude.
- Helping your child to label their feelings – whether they are stomping their feet and acting grumpy because they can’t have potato chips for dinner (which happened in our house this week), or laughing and jumping around with the dog, it can be helpful for us to acknowledge these feelings (“I can see you are feeling angry”, “You look very happy!”).This will encourage children to understand what their emotions feel like. This will benefit their development of gratitude by helping them to feel comfortable and confident discussing their feelings with others.
- Giving your children tools to manage different feelings: In our house, if we are feeling sad, we like to get outdoors and go for a picnic or watch a movie with some snacks. If we are angry, we like to use fidget toys and do some exercise to get rid of our angry energy.Giving your children options for how to manage their feelings shows understanding and acceptance of their variety of emotions and will encourage emotional regulation skills in the long term by helping them to develop healthy coping mechanisms.Having tools to address specific emotions encourages the development of gratitude, because children will have a greater understanding of what makes them feel grateful, and how they could show gratitude.Practice Gratitude in Different Ways:There are many different ways we show gratitude to others: for example, by telling them thank you, surprising them with gifts or making or writing something for them.Our children love to be involved in and doing the same things as their mom and dad, so involving them when we are showing gratitude to others can be a great way to encourage them to do the same.Some fun ways you can get children involved in varied gratitude practices are: – Have your child paint a nice picture on your next thank you card!
– Make some sweet treats for someone special with your little baker
– Pick some flowers from your garden together for someone special- Write a thank-you letter to someone together – Choose a nice gift for someone together
While you’re having fun being creative or choosing something special for someone, have a conversation with your child about why you’re doing these things for someone special; this will help them to understand the different ways we can show gratitude to others.
Show Appreciation of Their Efforts
Leading on from the previous point, it is important to remember that all people have different preferred communication styles. Your child may not be a fan of expressing gratitude verbally at the age and stage of gratitude they are at, but they may give you a hug, share a special toy with you, or write you a note to show you that they appreciate you.
When your kids show you their gratitude in this way, this is a great opportunity for you to encourage conversations about gratitude by telling them verbally that you appreciate their cuddle/note/high five etc. This will encourage them to continue to show gratitude to others, and could help them to verbalise their gratitude and when they are ready for this.
Consider Charity Work as a Family
Sometimes, we can all get bogged down in focusing on what we don’t have until we are reminded how much of a privilege it is to have what we do have. Young children often have no perception that all they have isn’t the standard experience for everyone, and so can struggle to understand how much they have to be grateful for.
For this reason, we believe it can be beneficial to talk and learn about differing circumstances which mean that others don’t have access to all the things we do, and get children interested in helping others. One way that we can do this is by engaging children in charity work.
There are various types of charity work that can be suitable for our children: baking some sweet treats to take part in a bake sale, donating old toys to Goodwill or local toy drives and dropping off grocery donations to your local Foodbank can be excellent places to start.
These activities will encourage children to reflect on their own circumstances in comparison to others’ and encourage both gratitude for their own advantages and empathy for those who are not as fortunate.
Make Gratitude a Part of Your Daily Routine
Research suggests that gratitude has the most benefits to wellbeing when it becomes a habit and the mind learns to automatically look for things to be grateful for. Therefore, if we want to encourage our children to be grateful people, it is helpful to practice gratitude as often as possible.
There are many ways you can practice gratitude daily with your family:
- A discussion at a regular point in the day, such as over dinner or in the car coming home from school about what we feel grateful for today (we do this in our house and, as well as encouraging gratitude, we find out so much more about ourchildren’s days at school with this prompt!)
- written gratitude journaling together with older children (where you list things you feel grateful for today). This is a great practice to encourage in your children as research suggests that we commit thoughts to memory better when they are written down, and gratitude journaling has specific benefits for long-term mental wellbeing including increased levels of happiness and stronger social relationships.
- Expressing to each member of your family something they have done today that made you feel grateful is a really nice activity and helps everyone to feel appreciated and consider how they can show their gratitude to others.
Gratitude for kids?
Gratitude has benefits for children’s well-being and social skills which will extend throughout their life. There are many ways that we can support our children to experience gratitude within our daily routine, including:
- Leading by example – let your children see you giving gratitude to others to encourage them to do the same!
- Supporting emotional literacy – knowing how to identify and manage their feelings can develop the emotional skills our children need to express gratitude
- Practice gratitude in different ways – this shows our children that there is more than one way to show gratitude to other people, and may peak their interest by involving them in more hands-on gratitude activities
- Showing appreciation of their efforts – when children are starting to try to show their gratitude, let’s make sure we reinforce this by praising them for their effort!
- Consider charity work together – helping those who are less fortunate can help to instil gratitude for what we do have
- Make gratitude a part of your daily routine – practice makes perfect! Daily gratitude practice has many benefits to social development and overall mental health and wellbeing.
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