Raising Grateful Kids
by Tess Connolly
Gratitude…it’s all the rage lately right? We hear about it everywhere…”gratitude,” “be thankful,” “giving thanks”…I even have a t-shirt that says ‘grateful’! Some have called it “Vitamin G”, the new supplement-for ourselves and our kids!
What is gratitude? Gratitude is simply being thankful; showing appreciation for something someone has done or said.
Why is being grateful important? Because practicing gratitude brings more joy and happiness into our lives. Gratitude improves our relationships and our overall sense of well-being. In her research over a decade Brene Brown, PhD found that those people who were living a ‘wholehearted life’ and described themselves as joyful all had one thing in common, an “active gratitude practice”.
Studies of adults show that adults who practice gratitude have a feeling of greater well-being, are happier, more optimistic, like their work more, are more resilient, and are less likely to experience anxiety, depression and stress. There have been less studies of children and gratitude, but studies of adolescents have shown less depression, drug use and behavioral problems. Other studies have shown an increase of pro-social behaviors, better academic performance and better long-term mental health.
Learning to be grateful can improve a child’s relationships with not only parents but his or her peers. They have a greater ability to empathize, have more compassion and kindness.
In Robert Emmons book, ‘Thanks! How the New science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier’ he posits “I soon discovered that gratitude is a deeper, more complex phenomenon that plays a critical role in human happiness. Gratitude is literally one of the few things that can measurably change peoples’ lives”
So how do we start practicing gratitude with our kids?
Raising a grateful child especially in an environment of ubiquitous cell phones, ipads, vacations and the latest trendy sportswear can be tough. Given this context of plenty we can shift our focus towards a more thankful, gracious and giving point of view in small and simple ways but first…
Raising grateful children has to start with us, as parents. Like most parenting skills or tips we learn, the foundation of any positive development between the parent and child begins with looking within ourselves.
This isn’t just a “let’s remember to be grateful” attitude, ….it’s a skill to practice and cultivate within our families.
As mentioned earlier, gratitude is a practice, a mindset and a way of being. This requires a shift in our own thinking and how we behave with ourselves and towards others. We need to model gratitude with our children and in our homes in order to help raise a grateful child. We cannot continually demand that they say ‘thank you’ and lecture about how much you do for them, or how hard it was for you growing up. This will defeat the purpose and put them on the defensive. Amy McCready in her book, The “Me,Me, Me”Epidemic states “true gratitude goes far beyond saying thank you. In fact, thank you is easier to teach than the appreciation behind it, but they go hand in hand, and both are within your grasp.”
Our practice as parents is to show gratitude everyday in simple ways keeping in mind your child’s developmental place too.
For younger children, under the age of 5, keep your thankful examples simple and matter-of-fact. When children are older you can discuss how other’s positive intentions and motivations, and what made someone do something that you or your child appreciated.
As Jeffrey J. Froh and Giacomo Bono write in their book, ‘Making Grateful Kids, The Science of Building Character’, “focus children on why good things happen to them and on the people responsible for making the good things happen”.
Here’s some simple, easy ways to “practice” gratitude with your child and ways to model gratitude for them;
- Thanking them for something you asked them to do or thanking someone else, like the waitress who brought you your food, the barista at the café, the bank teller or the person who holds the door for you
- Notice when someone is being generous or thoughtful and point it out to your child. Praise your child for their own thoughtfulness when they remember to put their backpack away without being asked.
- Note how appreciative or thoughtful it was that your friend, partner, or your other child to do something for you and how you feel about that. (Essentially talk out loud about how good that made you feel-your child will be learning from you)
- Have you and your child volunteer each week if you can or once a month. Call a local homeless shelter or check with your child’s school to see if there’s a club or other parents interested in doing a group volunteer experience.
- Write thank you notes-this may initially be some work for you to sit down with them and help them write (or draw) what they feel but it will instill a value of being appreciation.
- Mealtimes are a great way for each person take a moment and say what they are grateful for that day (initially model this for them by starting and be specific and thoughtful about what you are thankful for-they are looking to you for those clues about how to be grateful)
- Bedtimes are a great time for reflection and a way to help close the day, and (hopefully a way to help them quiet down) Use the R.O.S.E metaphor:
- Rose = something you liked that day
- Bud = something you are looking forward to
- Thorn = something that you didn’t like that day
You can also ask directly what they were grateful for that day.
- Gratitude journal – keep it on the kitchen table or on the family/living room ottoman and write in it each day, maybe in the morning, or as a bedtime ritual for each family member.
- Make use of the Ipad and do a thank you video to grandma, or have your kids video each other and what they are thankful for in their life
- Speaking of those Ipads or a new device or toy, have your child participate when you purchase these by using some of their allowance or doing some extra chores around the house.
-Example: I bought my 10 yr old son a new mini ipad recently but we made a contract for what he needs to do around the home and with his school responsibilities each week in order to earn his weekend time on the device.
- Plant a gratitude tree or use a tree in the backyard, or make an indoor plant a gratitude tree. Here’s how to do this;
-You can use manila 2×3 cards with wire attached and tie your gratitude thoughts to the tree.
-Ask guests, grandparents or friends when they come over to write a gratitude note, it can be a word or just a sentence or two about what they’re grateful for, then have them hang it in your yard or home.
- Have a “no gift” rule for birthday parties, you know, ‘presence instead of presents’. Instead ask birthday party guests to donate to your child’s favorite animal shelter or cause, then add up the donations and enjoy the feeling of doing something good with them.
- Another option for birthdays or holidays, is to give them an experience instead of gifts. Talk about your values of appreciation and gratitude and let them know you’d like to do something or just be with them rather than giving them getting extra toys.
Example: In our home we have a value that is talked about a lot of “experience over things”. For Christmas my son knows he will have an experience gift; a trip to see his favorite baseball game or to see a show. He is aware there will be less unwrapping under the tree but the benefit of that time together will last past that holiday season.
The benefits of being a grateful parent to your child and living with appreciation are numerous and can truly last a lifetime. Raising a grateful child doesn’t have to be another project we have to embark on, or put off until we have more time, we can start right now, where we are. Gratitude can be found in so many small (and large) ways in our lives. It can start with something as simple as you saying to your child, “thank you for being in my life”.
- Emmons, R. 2007. Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.
- McCready, A. 2016. The Me, Me, Me Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in the Over-Entitled World
- Froh, JJ., Bono, G. 2015. Making Grateful Kids, The Science of Building Character
- Jani, P. 2018. Vitamin G: Gratitude: The Daily supplement to create a magical life of fulfillment your deserve.