Three Effective Ways to Instill Gratitude in Your Children

From the moment we welcome them to the world, to our family and into our home—we want the best for our little ones. We want to do everything within our power and ability to help them grow, learn, and blossom. It isn’t hyperbolic to say that we want to give our children the world—all the love, all the tools, and all the opportunities.

The gift of gratitude—helping your little ones to develop a mindset of gratitude—checks all these boxes. Being conscious of all they have to be grateful for will serve our children well in difficult times and provide a foundation on which to build character. It’s not a physical gift, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a generous and thoughtful one.

Did you notice the chatter this holiday season about experiential gifts? We did! Increasingly, event tickets, class tuition, and trips are getting wrapped up and gifted. These experiences offer families the opportunity to make lasting memories together. Gratitude is an experiential gift too, but unlike tickets to Hamilton, it’s free!

The body of science around gratitude is growing, but to sum it up in an unscientific way, being thankful makes life more awesome. By helping our children to practice gratitude frequently and consistently, we give them the gift of a more awesome life.

A study at UC-Berkeley found that participants who wrote weekly letters of gratitude reported improved mental health. Studies at the University of Kentucky found that giving thanks lowers daily aggression, hurt feelings, and overall sensitivity. As a recent radio special from WNYC concluded, “Gratitude, it seems, is a key—perhaps the key—to feeling more satisfied with your life. It improves your relationships with loved ones. It’s even good for your heart.”

Gratitude is a gift that will serve children throughout their life. Adding some moments of thankfulness to your day requires little time and no money. We’ve got three actionable ways to practice and instill gratitude in your kids.

1. Give the gift of perspective.

It’s helpful to think of gratitude as a muscle—the more you use it, the stronger it gets—and a habit—the more you do it, the more automatic it becomes. Keep this in mind as your child gains perspective and begins to recognize all they have to be grateful for. It’s difficult to be grateful for a warm place to sleep or a full plate when your child doesn’t know or understand that not all people have that. It takes time for them to learn about the world around them and to gain perspective.

How can you help them gain perspective? Travel; Meet new and different people; Introduce your children to people who don’t look, talk, or worship like you do; Read books that do this too; Watch age-appropriate documentaries as a family and foster a discussion around what you learned; Volunteer as a family at a food pantry or soup kitchen. The more your children experience the world, the more perspective they’ll gain and the more they’ll learn that gratitude shows us what we have instead of what we don’t.

2. Repeat a gratitude mantra.

We know one amazing momma who greets her son each morning by saying, “Thank you for the gift of this beautiful day.” For her, this has two meanings. The first is gratitude for her son and the blessing he is to her. The second, is gratitude for the day and all the experiences and opportunities it will bring. As he gets older, this expression of gratitude can evolve and get more specific—thanks for the gift of visiting grandparents, soccer games, or first days of school. Whatever your spiritual perspective, this is a lovely way to start the day with your kids—in gratitude.

3. Keep a gratitude jar.

For many people, the act of writing down what they’re thankful for makes gratitude actionable and tangible. To help make this habit stick, place your jar, paper, and writing utensil in an obvious and accessible spot. You can check out Pinterest for creative gratitude jar inspiration, but any jar, box, or container will work. (This is also a great use for scrap paper!) Overtime, all those little slips of paper will add up and you’ll be blessed with a history of your family’s gratitude and life. Each piece of paper will provide a glimpse into a day in the life of your child—just one more thing to be grateful for! Gratitude jars are especially great for older kids who are practicing reading and writing.

As you begin filling a gratitude jar or saying some words of thanks before a meal, we think you’ll find that you benefit from these small acts of gratitude just as much, if not more, than your children. Making an effort to demonstrate gratitude to your kids will make you more aware of all you have to be grateful for. What does gratitude look like in your home? We’d love to know. Please share in the comments below.

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