Teaching Gratitude to Children

Gratitude is an important life skill that can have a lifelong impact on overall happiness and life satisfaction.

Boy thank youNot only does it foster feelings of empathy and consideration for others, but it reduces feelings of entitlement and chronic disappointment all too common in our busy, self-indulged society. Nonetheless, teaching children to be grateful can be challenging.

Simply saying “Please” and “Thank You” and sending thank you cards is not the same as being grateful; although you might do those things, and good etiquette suggests that you should.

Gratitude results when you notice and appreciate what you have. Unfortunately, many people don’t notice what they have until it’s gone and the tricky part of teaching gratitude is encouraging children to appreciate what they have without feeling guilty for having it.

Try the following suggestions for encouraging your children to notice and appreciate what they have.

Be a Good Role Model

Children learn much more through observation than from being told so make sure you model gratitude. Say “Please” and “Thank you” to your children, let them see you happily writing thank you cards, and express your appreciation for what you have often.

Make a Point of Noticing and Appreciating Small Things Every Day

Incorporate gratitude into conversations and daily activities (“We’re so lucky to have this park to play in.” “Isn’t that bird beautiful?” “I’m so happy when you listen.”) You could also start a family ritual of saying what you are grateful for each day. As part of your dinner conversation, you could ask each family member to say what good things happened that day or make it part of your nightly routine when getting ready for bed. Paying attention to the good things each day helps to reinforce them in your memory and puts your focus on the positive. Encourage older children to keep a gratitude journal in which they record the things they are grateful for each day.

Have Kids Help

Although, it may be easier to complete the tasks yourself, involve your children in household chores. Even if they are painstakingly slow or don’t complete the job to your standards, resist the urge to step in and take over. When children participate in daily chores, like unloading the dishwasher or taking out the garbage, they learn to appreciate the effort involved. When they are required to perform these tasks themselves, they also start to notice and appreciate the times it is done for them.

Encourage Generosity

Thankful sayingsSet aside time to go through closets and toy chests to pick out gently used items that can be donated to charities. Donating items that are no longer needed serves two purposes: space is cleared for other things that you need or want, and the items are given new life with others who can use and appreciate them. But don’t limit generosity to things that are no longer needed or wanted.

Small sacrifices also go a long way to teaching gratitude.

For example, tithing can be a good way to encourage regular giving. Teach your children to divide their earnings (from allowance or jobs) into three categories. Set aside ten percent to give to charity. Then divide the remainder in half and put one half into a savings plan and keep the other half for everyday expenses.

Find Goodwill Projects

Helping others is a great way to foster appreciation for our own situation and it feels good. As a family, you could volunteer at a food bank or soup kitchen. But, these projects don’t have to be so formal. You could also look for ways to help people in your neighbourhood. For example, you could offer to feed someone’s cat while they are away, or pull weeds from their garden when they are sick, or bake cookies to welcome a new family to the neighbourhood. Another option is to organize activities, such as collecting refundable bottles, to raise money to donate to a chosen charity.

Teaching your children to be grateful is a worthwhile endeavour with a huge pay out. However, learning gratitude doesn’t happen overnight. It requires ongoing practise and gentle reinforcement. Be patient and appreciate your progress.

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