Research regarding gratitude generally focuses on adults. However, gratitude involves myriad benefits for everyone. Gratitude can be linked to improved physical health and mental well-being. Studies confirm that people who are grateful sleep better and live longer than those who are not. Gratitude is a more effective indicator of happiness and hope than self-control, patience, and even forgiveness.
People who are grateful for past blessings are happier in the present time and feel more optimistic about the future. Teaching your kids to be grateful will help them be more reflective regarding gratitude when they’re adults.
Clearly, there are many positive reasons to teach kids how to experience and express gratitude. The most important way to help your kids feel grateful is also the simplest: simply teach them to say “thank you.”
It may seem as though a forced “thank you” isn’t genuine gratitude. But it’s simply the first step in a process. Encouraging kids to regularly express gratitude verbally is an important component for developing genuine gratitude as they mature. It will help them start to recognize and appreciate when others give them something, whether it’s tangible or intangible.
So, encourage kids to say “thank you” regularly. Offer gentle encouragement, such as, “What do you say to your sister for letting you go first?” or “Grandma gave you a snack. What should you say to her?”
You can also encourage your kids to write “thank you” notes to people who gave them gifts or showed them kindness. Encourage your young child to color a picture for the grandparent who sent them a birthday gift, or suggest that your teen writes an appreciative note to a favorite teacher or coach who was a positive influence on them.
Once your child is regularly saying “thank you,” it’s time to ensure that they’re not simply going through expected motions. Experiment with different strategies to determine which practices enable everyone to sense and communicate their appreciation. Here are six ideas.
- Use positive reinforcement.
Positive attention reinforces the importance of showing gratitude. So, point out times when your child showed gratitude without your prompting. Offer praise by saying something such as, “Nice job thanking your friend for helping you today,” or “I like how you thanked your teacher for reminding you about your homework.”
- Take action.
Discuss what being grateful means, and boost their understanding of thankfulness to the next level by including more aspects. Make it clear that there are many ways to show other people that you appreciate all they do.
For example, they could return a favor, such as loaning a toy to their friend who was kind. Or, they could perform acts of service, such as doing chores for an older relative who faithfully attends all their soccer games.
- Be an example.
Kids learn gratitude by seeing and hearing their parents express gratitude. In other words, grateful parents raise grateful children.
Here are some easy ways to can be a thankful example for your children:
- Whether it’s your waiter at a restaurant or your child for completing chores, make sure you’re often saying “thank you” to people.
- Talk about gratitude, deliberately including what you’re thankful for. Even when things don’t go the way you planned, there’s still a lot you feel thankful for. Rather than complaining that it’s raining, express gratitude that the flowers are getting watered so your yard will look nice.
- Express gratitude tangibly. Whether you write “thank you” letters or send tokens of appreciation to others, your children will see how important such tasks are and will learn to do likewise.
4. Create a family gratitude project.
Family projects are effective ways to involve the whole household in expressing thankfulness. Whatever type of project your family chooses, be sure it gets everyone talking and thinking more about gratitude. Hearing about things other people are thankful for will encourage everyone else to be more grateful, too. Here are three ideas:
- Set up a bulletin board for family members to post notes about what they’re grateful for. Whether you use colorful little sticky notes, a dry-erase board with markers, or bright sheets of paper to decorate and tack up, a gratitude board is a great family project. It will also be an effective conversation piece, inspiring discussions about specific things others felt thankful for or how quickly the board filled up because there are so many positive things happening.
- Create a thankfulness jar. Set a jar in an accessible location, with writing utensils and blank slips of paper nearby. Instruct everyone to write notes about things they’re thankful for every day and leave the notes in the jar. Then, periodically read the notes together as a family.
- Write letters of appreciation to the first responders in your community. Make it clear that your gratitude doesn’t need to be reserved for people you know. There are many people in the community for whom you might feel grateful.
- Establish family thankfulness rituals.
Intentionally develop habits to regularly express thankfulness as a family. Here are five examples:
- During the drive to or from school, take turns expressing gratitude to somebody else in the car.
- During dinner, have each person share about one thing that they were thankful for that day.
- At bedtime, have each child list three things they’re thankful for.
- One evening a week, meet together so everyone can discuss how they will express appreciation during the next week and to whom they will express it.
- Every Saturday morning, sit together so everyone can write a “thank you” note to somebody for a specific reason.
You may feel as though gratitude should be more spontaneous than this. But intentionally establishing thankful habits will ensure that kids continue them regularly, enabling them to become second nature.
Giving thankfulness precedence in your family will benefit not only your children. The adults will also receive a vital boost in well-being and happiness.
There still will be instances when your kids seem as though they’re not thankful. But this doesn’t automatically mean that you’ve failed when it comes to teaching thankfulness. It’s natural for kids to express selfishness and entitlement. So, transform these moments into teachable opportunities. Continue introducing new thankfulness techniques, and don’t give up on being a thankful example. You’ll soon notice these entitled moments are fading away.