Teaching Children About Gratitude
Gratitude is an acknowledgement of the blessings, both great and small, that contribute to our situation in life. When a person invites gratitude into their mindset, the benefits of resilience, confidence, and overall happiness will abound. Of course, we all want our children to receive these benefits, and in turn, often parents will start with teaching basic “please” and “thank you” manners to their children at a young age. When we teach our children to say “thank you,” following the receipt of kindness, we are teaching only a small seed of potential gratitude. So what more can we do for our children to nurture the seed and watch it grow into a beautiful flowering tree?
The most important factor toward developing any life skill in a child is modeling it yourself. Children imitate what they observe. Hold yourself accountable to how grateful you are towards people and situations around you, especially as your child is watching. As local authors Catherine McCarthy, MD; Heather Tedesco, PhD; and Jennifer Weaver, LCSW suggest in their new book, Raising a Kid Who Can, practice the “think aloud” strategy by verbalizing your gratitude so that it is evident to your child. For example, in the car, rather than giving in to road frustrations, you might allow someone to cut in front of you and say aloud, “It really wasn’t that car’s turn, but it seems like they’re in a hurry and it will be kind to let them in front of us. I’m thankful we’re all safe and everyone will get where they need to go eventually.” It may seem unnatural to many of us, but verbalizing this kind of thought could very well inspire your child to think about the plight of others and be more grateful for their own situation.
Here are two fun activities to try together with your child to nurture gratitude:
- Build a Random Acts of Kindness Bucket: On small index cards, write an act of kindness. Children older than age two can help brainstorm acts to include. Put the cards in a bucket and draw a card each day or week. Discuss why the act is kind and encourage performing the act together or individually. Some acts might be a one-time event, but others might be habits you hope to build, like thanking a coach after a game. Retell and share about the act as time passes in order to build the memory. Some examples might be: cheer on a local youth sport team and thank each player afterwards, draw a picture for and visit an elderly neighbor, try to greet everyone with a smile and a “hello” today.
- Go On a Thankful Nature Hike: Choose a beautiful Fall weather day, tie on your boots, and head out into nature! While you’re out there, take along a list of items to find that encourage gratitude toward nature. Your list could include something to throw in the trash (take gloves and a bag), something that makes you smile, something that is colorful, something that provides food, something that provides shelter, something that makes a lovely sound, something fun to play with, a place that’s nice to rest, etc. Take pictures of the things you find to make a photo book or collage at home as a reminder of the things your child is grateful for. This also helps leave no trace! Finish your hike by creating a heart out of found pieces of nature to leave behind for the next hiker to find. Imagine the smile and joy that hiker will experience!