Have you ever thought about how to regularly practice gratitude with your children? I think as a parent we have all said the words ‘you’re being ungrateful’ when you hear ‘I’m bored’, ‘there’s nothing to do’, ‘my friend got this and I don’t have one!’…..
I often wonder, as a child of immigrant parents who lived through financial insecurity and appreciated whatever my parents could afford to get us; how will my kids do the same when they won’t experience the same struggles?
Our kids have only seen a life of privilege. Of course this is exactly what we want! It’s a blessing. But they will have to be taught gratitude in a different way than we did growing up, because now, many things are simply handed to them without any effort on their part. Especially if they have grandparents in their lives!
Ever feel worried you have some spoiled brats on your hands? Kids might feel entitled to receive things instead of what we feel as parents should be deserved or earned by, at the very least, just behaving the way we expect!
What Does Research Say About Gratitude
Gratitude Improves Health
Gratitude is often referred to as Vitamin G because the practice of being grateful can actually have health benefits.
1. Improves Psychological Health
Focusing on the positives in life helps improve your mood and happiness. There are a lot of negative emotions that gratitude can help shoot down – envy, resentment, frustration and regret to name a few.
2. Improves Physical Health
Gratitude can have a positive impact on physical health – better sleep, higher energy levels and a stronger immune system
3. Improves Stress Management
Gratitude provides a coping mechanism to help handle stress better. You are less likely to sweat the small stuff when you are able to look at the big picture and focus on the positive.
Gratitude Helps with Development
1. Develop Empathy and Compassion
By understanding that we are more fortunate than a lot of other people in the world, children can develop empathy for those who have less. This may increase the desire to be more helpful and generous. Sounds like it just makes us better humans.
2. Strengthens Relationships
Being grateful helps keep relationships healthy and strong by appreciating the people in our lives.
3. Helps Develop Resilience
This is really key for me. I learned resilience through different circumstances in my childhood and wondered how privileged children can even learn this skill. It makes sense that by practicing gratitude, it can help increase your mental strength, allowing you to persevere through life’s challenges.
How to Explain Gratitude to a Child
Many parents try to instill early on in children the importance of saying ‘thank you’ to people who give them gifts or display other forms of generosity and kindness. Its part of being polite and showing good manners. But how do we go beyond that so that kids are not just grateful for the things they receive?
The answer is, it will take time for kids to really feel grateful and mean it because they need to develop the emotional maturity to understand that there are people who are less fortunate than they are. Over time, they will be able to observe such things as inequality and poverty. Curiosity will lead them to ask questions, which will lead to these important life lessons.
The homeless people on the street corner holding up signs and begging for money will no longer be just people standing there.
My kids have now developed the understanding that something is not right. They feel bad that this person is in this circumstance. They ask how they can help. That is how you know that they are ready to learn more about the practice of gratitude.
Gratitude Must Be Modeled
Telling them to be grateful all the time doesn’t work. I know, I have tried it! Its just not that simple. I recently read this quote:
“It is largely agreed that gratitude is not inbuilt; instead it develops over time, as certain capacities become available and cognitive abilities mature,” write researchers Blaire Morgan and Liz Gulliford in the new book Developing Gratitude in Children and Adolescents. It “require[s] a great deal of practice.”
In a study called Raising Grateful Children One Day at a Time, researchers found that parents who engaged in more frequent acts of gratitude reported more frequent displays of gratitude by their children. This also means that there was found to be a positive association between a parent displaying gratitude and a child being grateful.
Parents need to incorporate acts and words of gratitude in daily life for children to model the same behavior. Yup, its on us! Now that we also understand how much this can impact their mental and physical health into adulthood, practicing gratitude has become even more important.
This doesn’t mean we have to suppress our negative emotions all of the time and become Mr. or Mrs. Sunshine – especially before your morning cup of coffee! This isn’t healthy either. But gratitude can be the spiritual lift that we can all use.
I try to show my appreciation for even small things – having a good night of sleep, driving them to school in nice weather, getting in a good workout etc. Any chance I get to fit in a word of gratitude, I try to do it when I’m talking to the kids.
Of course there are acts of community service that we should also be modelling. Simple acts such as helping senior neighbors clear their snow, can have a big impact on kids and inspire them to help in ways they can as well. Even if it just means piling up acorns to make life easier for the squirrels. Personally I think they are making the squirrels lazy, but I guess they have to start somewhere!
Ways to Encourage Giving
There are many ways to model giving back to the community to our children. Here are a few that we have been involved in.
1. Food bank drives
Many schools take the initiative to start a food bank drive, especially around holiday seasons. My kids’ school tried to make the last food drive fun by creating a challenge to fill the Principal’s office with so many food items that he could no longer walk in!
This really excited the kids because they thought it was a fun way to help. We went on a fun shopping trip to the grocery store – which is normally not fun for them! We filled the trunk of the car and brought everything to school. It was a great way to show school spirit while helping support the community in need.
2. Support Special Causes
We like to focus on specific projects such as building schools and clean water wells in developing countries. We also support orphans in different countries. At their current age, we don’t go into very specific details about the circumstances of these orphan children because it is quite dark and heavy.
But they understand that these children don’t have parents and need support. The organization we work with sends us progress reports each year. We like to read them together with the kids.
3. Purchasing Through Artisans
Several charitable organizations work directly with artisans worldwide to sell their handmade gifts and crafts directly to the pubic using a model of ethical and fair trade. Gift purchases for themselves and others can help provide support and income to these artists while enjoying a unique gift.
4. Create Care Packages
There are many organizations that accept care packages for the people they are supporting. They are always in need of not only food, but also personal care supplies. You can put together packages for the homeless and for people staying in shelters.
What are the kinds of items you should put in your care packages?
First start with what you should use to carry the items. For homeless people, a simple backpack will be helpful for them to carry around. You may have heard of the shoe box initiative as well. This would be more suitable for people in shelters. Of course the items inside are much more important.
Here is a free printable checklist to help you get organized when shopping and making the packages with the kids. Just sign up to get access to our free resource library.
Fun Gratitude Activities
1. Create a Scapbook or Album
We have written about scrapbooking and why we love doing this as a family activity. Its great to let kids put their own favorite memories together and write what they loved and appreciated about that moment. Going through old pictures helps with storytelling and bonding, which creates positive feelings of gratitude.
When children create their own keepsake of their favorite pictures, its something they can always go back to, to lift their spirits and feel grateful for their family and friends.
Art is such a great way to engage children. My kids love being creative and incorporating art.
When you think about all the toys and colorful board books that we used since they were babies to teach them things like shapes, numbers and words, it makes sense that this method of teaching more sophisticated things can work as well.
2. Gratitude Garden
Simply draw a flower garden full of different flowers and in the center of each flower, write something that you are grateful for. Alternatively, you can create one large flower and write something on each petal.
A gratitude garden is quite common, but you can definitely use your creatively to expand beyond that. Just write your words on each object. Here are some more examples:
- cars on a road
- a long train with words written on each part of the train
- sailboats floating in water
- birds flying in the sky
- jars sitting on a shelf – for my daughter it would more likely be perfume bottles on a dresser!
- t-shirts hanging on a line
Part of the fun can be the kids coming up with their own ideas! Of course they can just draw pictures of the people and things they love and are grateful for!
Here is a free printable of a unicorn design to print, color and write words of gratitude on. You will find this in our free resource library.
3. Painted Rocks
This is quite common and even more so since we have been spending a lot of time in the outdoors, going on hikes and long walks. The kids love spotting these beautifully painted, colorful rocks with positive words and messages written on them. So why not make your own!
Collect your rocks, paint your designs and then have the kids write their own positive messages and words of gratitude. They can place the rocks outside around the house to see whenever they are outside.
4. Thank You Cards and Notes
My son was 7 years old – around the age they say that children start to develop the emotional maturity to understand gratitude, when he made me this thank you card for taking care of him after he was sick. I was amazed at how he felt compelled to do this on his own! Just warmed my heart. We had written thank you notes in the past so I’mm sure he had thought of it because of those actions.
Writing some notes together will surely help them understand how meaningful saying thank you this way can be.
Thank you and gratitude notes can also be written and put in a decorated jar or shoe box! It’s a craft that the kids will love and will encourage them to fill their jars and boxes with notes of all they are grateful for.
5. Gratitude Story Prompts
This is different than the idea of having a gratitude journal. I found that expecting kids to write something open-ended regularly was too difficult. I would just end up with one sentence saying thank you for my doll, or thank you for my family. I can see how that can be challenging to do regularly and not really take much thought.
So instead we write gratitude stories. I provide a prompt, and their goal is to turn this story around so that there is a positive outcome and a show of gratitude. I also love this because it involves using their imagination and working on their creative writing.
For example, the prompt is: I didn’t get what I wanted for my birthday
I ask them to write a short story about how this situation can be turned around to become positive and the person shows gratitude. I have also given them a prompt and asked them to write a letter to this person, explaining to them how they can essentially make lemons out of lemonade!
Take a look at this list of gratitude story prompts and try them out together! Print a copy from our free resource library.
There are many children’s books and songs full of positive messages that teach children about gratitude. Mindfulness and meditation activities are also being encouraged at a young age. There are many great ways for families to incorporate gratitude into everyday life.