There are many virtues that our children have to learn when they are young. They need to learn how to share and how to take turns. These are skills that we want them to learn when they are young and that we teach them; we don’t expect them to just pick these up. This is important to keep in mind when we think of gratitude. Although living by example may encourage your children to show gratitude; it is also a skill that should be taught.
Gratitude is a mindset that is developed through environment and the way in which we guide our children. As a parent, by practicing and encouraging gratitude, you are doing more than just teaching your children to say thank you and have good manners. You are helping them to develop a way of thinking that will help them be healthier and happier individuals that connect with the world around them. When you do not take the time to teach gratitude, you risk raising children that feel entitled and as a result may end up feeling perpetually disappointed as they grow up.
So how can you teach gratitude? Adults wanting to improve their gratitude often begin gratitude journals. Although this is beneficial, it does not need to be so formal for children. Find ways to infuse gratitude into your daily conversations. Depending on your child, you may want to have a daily gratitude routine. In our household we say our ‘grateful’ in the car on the way to school. For my daughter and me, this sets the tone for the day. For others, they like to do it as part of morning devotions or nighttime prayers. It doesn’t really matter when you do it; it is just beneficial to get into the routine of doing it.
If you are just beginning a gratitude routine with your children, you will need to model it. The concept can seem quite abstract and it will need to be a little more concrete in order to get it off the ground…especially for young children. Also, remember that there don’t need to be any conditions on your child’s gratitude. For example, one day you may get something deep such as, “I’m so grateful for the sun rises every morning.” But don’t be alarmed if the next day you get something like, “I am so grateful that mommy finally gave me CoCo puffs for breakfast this morning.” The key is remembering that you are teaching your child to slow down, be in the present, and be thankful for both the significant and seemingly insignificant things in their lives.
For older children and teens, you may suggest a gratitude journal. This is a fantastic way to help them be more mindful from an early stage in life. Continuing with a practice such as this one will give your teens the fuel they need in order to be able to deal with stressful and sometimes overwhelming emotions such as anger, shame, fear, and hostility.
There are a number of other activities that can also increase the spirit of gratitude in your household. These include:
- Deciding on good will projects that you will take on as a family
- Encouraging generosity amongst siblings, family members and friends
- Encouraging giving
- Creating an environment where children have joy in giving and understand the value of giving as opposed to focusing on receiving