By Stephanie Owen, LMFT
Teaching children to say “thank you” is often more simple than instilling gratitude, which is a lifelong process. Research has shown that gratitude is essential in one’s well-being and success because it increases overall happiness, optimism and satisfaction.
Fostering a sense of gratitude at an early age allows children to open their mind to other perspectives. Appreciation allows children to acknowledge more about the world than only their own feelings and wishes at any given time. Even more, grateful children grow up to be more polite and kind to others, which in turn, breeds a culture of respect, sharing and giving. And the best part? Gratitude can be taught.
Here are five helpful strategies to raise a grateful child --- one who express appreciation when someone does something kind and acknowledges all they have and all those that have helped them along the way.
1. Model through your behaviors.
The best way to teach values like gratitude is by example. Parents provide the blueprint for what to say and do. Showing kindness and appreciation through words and actions are one of the most effective ways to teach children how to feel more grateful. You can do this through respectful manners like “please” and “thank you” with your family and others as often as possible. You could also share your thoughts on what you’re grateful for throughout your day. For instance, while going out for a walk, you could share positive thoughts about the day or people you come across, even in your short interactions, which teaches gratitude for the simple and seemingly mundane events that are often ignored.
2. Share empathy during the hardest times.
Empathy is a crucial emotion needed for developing gratitude and moral behavior. It will also give you a sense of appreciation for your child when it’s needed most. When your child tantrums or yells, remind yourself that they’re wounded inside and are showing their feelings the best they know how. I love Sandra Wilson’s quote, “Hurt people hurt people.” Kindness through empathy is taking a moment to step away from a problem you’re having and see it from their perspective. Instead of yelling back, take some deep breaths and say, “I can see you’re feeling angry… I feel that way sometimes, too.” By doing this you’re appreciating their feelings and acknowledging their desire to share them.
3. Use strengths to promote gratitude.
Recognizing and identifying your child’s key strengths will reinforce their ability to help others and cooperate, which will ultimately help them feel more grateful for who they are and what they have to give. Inspire and encourage your children to use their strengths to help others. For instance, you can ask them to help make dinner because one of their strengths is prepping meals, or to help you clean out a closet because they’re great with organizing.
4. Focus on intrinsic goals and efforts.
It’s easy for people to focus on material possessions that show off status and wealth, which ultimately hinders real connections and sincere gratitude. It’s your job as a parent to help children navigate away from extrinsic goals and bring them towards intrinsic goals for the good of our community and internal growth. Encourage your child to acknowledge those who’ve helped them reach their goals, such as talking about their teachers, counselors, and family members who are continually contributing to their success. You might also take your child to visit less privileged conditions or donate old clothes and toys as a way to appreciate more of what they have.
5. Be patient.
Gratitude has the foundation of genuine relationships and it cannot be learned overnight. It will take time before it becomes a habit. Keep in mind that a lot of ‘no’s’ while reinforcing acknowledgment of what they already have will bring lots of tears and yet what you’re instilling now will make an even bigger positive effect. Next time your child asks for something he wants, share that you understand his feelings and desires and then remind him about what he already has to help him understand if there’s a need for what he’s seeking. Helping your child to reflect on the demand that was expressed as a command will foster a stronger appreciation. Know this will help you raise your child with an appreciation for all the little and big things.
We must help kids grow into moral adults who will make a better world with compassion and care. Anything worthwhile takes a lot of time and effort!
What else would you add to this list? Share comments below, we’d love to learn how else you’re instilling a sense of gratitude in your family! Share with others and tag a friend who could use this, too!