Isn't it true that we all want our children to be grateful and to express that thankfulness, and the opposite is also true - we do not want our children to be ungrateful, greedy, or act "entitled" or "spoiled." So what can you do to help foster that attitude of gratitude, and what are the benefits for your children?
How can parents inspire and teach gratitude?
What can parents do to help children learn to be grateful? You can do many things, and it all begins with YOU.
You will teach your children to have gratitude when you do and express that gratitude - you MODEL the behavior and attitude you want. When children grow up in a home where gratitude is a language they hear consistently, they will also learn this language.
Say "please" and "thank you" to your child, spouse, friends, and strangers in the grocery and restaurant. Start it early, do it consistently, and make it part of your language.
Talk (out loud, so your children can hear it) about what you are thankful for daily to express your gratitude. "I am thankful for that woman who held the door open for us. That was so nice of her, and she could tell we needed help." "I was so thankful to have a warm coat on this cold, snowy day."
You will teach your children to have gratitude when you stop giving them TOO MUCH.
Dang! I hate this one! We all want to give to our children, to shower them with gifts that we call affection. Here's the deal: It is possible that when we do this, they learn that they get whatever they want; they make more demands for more stuff and do not learn to appreciate or be grateful for what they have. So what's a parent or grandparent to do? It turns out there are things you can do to help.
Think of giving too much as broader than just the gifts. Perhaps, you give too much in activities, and your child is overscheduled, and so are you. Maybe, you give too much time and attention, and your child cannot entertain himself or be content alone. Do they demand you spend too much time and energy on them at the expense of others and your other relationships or your own expense? Perhaps, you give them too many toys, so they don't even enjoy what they have or play with them and instead always want another new toy. Identify the areas where you might be giving too much, and instead of teaching them that you love them (your intent), they are learning these other things that you do not intend.
Turn this around by helping your child show and tell her appreciation. Talk about their gratitude and ask them to tell you what they appreciate about having that toy or doing that activity. Talk about ways you all want to express your gratitude and appreciation. Establish the expectation that we write thank you notes to show our appreciation to Aunt Cheryl or GiGi. We tell people how much we appreciate their thoughtfulness.
Also, please know that it is normal to get angry, upset, disappointed, and sad if you don't get what you want - and that is true for children and adults too! You will allow your child to have these feelings, for they are simply that - feelings. You will acknowledge them and may help your child name them, "I know it is hard not to get a toy when we go to the grocery store, and that you are sad about that." You might just listen to your child beg (and you will not need to talk or try to reason with them). It is not helpful to rescue, take away or fix her feelings; just allow her to own them and process them. Believe that your child can work through their angry, sad, or disappointed feelings because they can; that is how they learn to accept and process their own feelings too.
You will teach your children to have gratitude when you help them learn the CONCEPT OF ENOUGH.
When enough is enough, and when they have enough. Please know that this concept takes time to teach to children and adults.
Let's face it, we all have difficulty with this! When do we eat enough, drink, have enough athleisure wear, buy enough in-game purchases, or enough toys? Again, when we start with ourselves, only then can we begin to give away that understanding to others.
Teaching them "that is enough" helps your child learn moderation. Using the words "That's too much." "Oh, we overdid that." "That is more than you need," and modeling, "That is more than I need." "No, thank you. I have had enough." this will help your child begin to understand this.
Talking through the "enough" concept also helps your child learn to regulate themselves. You might decide together, "How many in-app purchases are enough today/this week?" or "How much money is enough to spend on a pair of sneakers?" "How much candy would be enough for you to get a treat and enough for your body to handle?"
Remember to use it beyond "things" when you think of enough. You can talk about enough food, time at the park, waiting, fun and excitement, and loud stimulation. Help your child with language that says, "We have had enough __________, so now we need __________" or "We have had enough playtime, so now we need to rest." "We have had enough exciting games, so now we need to enjoy our books and puzzles or art supplies." "We have had enough screen time, so now we need to go and run and play outside!"
You will teach your children to have gratitude when you help them learn that their value does not come from external things - VALUE THEM FOR WHO THEY ARE - not what they do or what they have.
Help your child see that it is not their things or winning that makes them valuable. Instead, it is who they are inside because they are a gift to you, and you just love them...period.
Before you begin on your child, stop and ask yourself, "What messages am I sending about how much I value physical appearance and image, money and wealth, possessions and comparisons, or titles and status?" You might start there if you are tempted by the "glitter," too. Please know that having money and things is not a bad thing; in fact, many good things can be done with money. It is harmful if those things have you or own you.
Help your child by focusing on internal character traits, the integrity rather than anything external. Change your "Good job! You are so smart!" to "You worked really hard on your writing, and that hard work paid off! Change "I am proud of you" to "I am proud that you stuck with that puzzle because it was challenging. I can see that you are really learning a "stick-to-it" attitude."
Show your appreciation and love randomly. Instead of receiving your love when they do something well or that you like, change that to giving your hugs, kisses, and words of affirmation just because they are. Walk by them and say, "I just love you so much because of who you are." "I adore you because you are a gift to us." When they struggle to learn something new, "I will love you forever, even if you never ever learn to ride a bicycle! I believe in you!"
Children can understand that their value comes from within when you ask them how they feel instead of telling them how you feel. "How do you feel about your building?" instead of "I like your building." or, "I think you should make it a little taller."
You will teach your children to have gratitude when you USE BOOKS and MOVIES to help you spread the message.
Look to this for a book & Movie list:
Read aloud and talk about the characters being generous, kind, and grateful. Talk about the characters who are not. "Why do you think John did not want to share his toy?" "How did they solve the problem then?" "What things did Samantha do that showed you she was generous?" "What do you think was going on in the bear's heart when he was grabbing all those things and keeping them to himself?"
Reflect on the messages of the book. "What do you think the author was trying to teach in this book?" "How does this book tell us about gratitude?" "What did you learn about giving from this book?"
Movies like "Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving" and others can spark good conversations about gratitude. As you watch a movie together, talk about how the characters are saying "please" and "thank you," and notice when you see gratitude displayed. Use the same conversation starters that you use when reading together. At the end of the movie, stop and share together. "I am so glad that in the end, the children decided to give to others and be grateful." I love how he learned to share and be thankful.
You will teach your children to have gratitude when you GIVE and teach them to give.
It is more than bagging up toys your child no longer wants; it is giving time, energy, service, and love to others.
Volunteer and give as a family. Help rake your neighbor's leaves or help shovel her snow; a little community building makes for a merrier street. Get your elderly neighbor's fallen limbs from the yard after a storm. It's not too awkward to send a welcome package to a new neighbor; they would love it. Make it a family practice to give to others.
Encourage your child to give. Has your child noticed a child who moved into the neighborhood, ask them to go outside and say hello. Ask your child to share money and give it to the Salvation Army kettle. Adopt a Christmas Angel (a child the same age as your child) and have them pick out the toy or coat for that child.
Talk about why you give as a family. Talk about how much you have, how blessed you are, and why giving is important. Keep it simple and non-lecturing. "We give because we have money and can help people and do good things with that money." "We give because we want that child to have a great holiday gift just like you want a great one." "We go there and give our time and conversation because he is lonely." "We give because we are called to be generous people."
Here are more ways you can help your children with a gratitude attitude:
Just as important as knowing what to do is knowing Why?
Why is having an attitude of gratitude so important? Why is it worth the effort? What are the benefits?
Turns out, the benefits of cultivating gratitude are many for adults and children and go beyond just being nice.
Studies by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, reveal numerous health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, reducing risks for depression and anxiety, and improving immune functioning. Additionally, there are positive impacts on choosing healthy behaviors, and gratitude can block negative, harmful emotions. In fact, people who practice gratitude are happier people.
Children benefit too! Their academic performance is enhanced; they are more involved in extracurricular activities; they have more positive emotions and feel more satisfied with school and life. There is less anxiety and depression. Their moods and their mental health benefits. Check these articles to learn more about why the attitude and practice of gratitude are so beneficial and important: