We often hear from parents saying things like, “she has so much and doesn’t know how lucky she is” or “the more we give him, the less he seems to appreciate it”. Naturally we all want to know that our children are grateful for what they have. But is there a way to “teach” gratitude, for kids to understand their good fortune and abundance? To instill a sense of compassion and empathy towards others?
Gratitude is a tricky concept which perhaps is not taught so much as modeled. So, on the heels of the holidays, with all its demands and expectations, here are some things to consider:
- While children are naturally egocentric, grateful kids do learn to recognize that others are doing things for them, caring for them – whether it’s making them dinner, buying toys, giving hugs, or helping with homework. Those who don’t learn this feel entitled and often disappointed.
- By age 4, children can understand being thankful so demonstrate your thankfulness with action and daily conversation. Use please and thank you when you talk and express appreciation for them and for others.
- Don’t do for them what they can do for themselves. If they help around the house with simple chores (throwing clothes in the hamper, clearing the table), they learn that these things take effort.
- Amp up the gratitude –perhaps at dinner or bedtime- by talking daily about the good things that happened that day. Everyone gets to share an event, a moment, a kindness.
- Practice saying “no” so that yes means more.
- Write thank you notes and expect children to do the same. Young children can draw a picture and dictate the words.
- Encourage and practice generosity and giving. Children are watching you and will do as you do! Keep it simple such as cooking for a sick neighbor or friend. Children can make a card. Help children to understand that we are all in need of help sometimes! Model giving, caring, and service to others.
- Donate… and encourage children to do the same, understanding that those less fortunate appreciate and deserve the same nice things that they do.
- If young children see adults volunteering they are more likely to do it themselves- or with you – at an appropriate age.
Gratitude and service go hand in hand contributing to the greater good. And research clearly shows that there is a correlation between gratitude and well-being. As children learn about a bigger world outside themselves they deepen their sense of connection, community, and shared humanity. Couldn’t we all use a little more of that?