Helping kids be grateful when it’s NOT holiday time

As parents, we’re all familiar with the phenomenon of kids being sweet, gooey, and thankful when Christmas is a week away.  We also know all of us are more likely to reflect on life’s blessings or give to charities when it’s holiday time.  However, instilling a sense of gratitude in our children (and having one ourselves) is linked to so many benefits, we need to try and maintain this sense of gratitude all year long.  Here is a segment I recorded on My Carolina Today on the topic:

So why is it important for kids to have a sense of gratitude?

Many kids in our culture grow up with a sense of entitlement and expect everything they want to be given to them.  They have a restricted view of the world and often aren’t aware of “how good they have it.” It’s important for kids to develop a sense of gratitude so that they appreciate what they have and don’t develop into self-centered adults.

Being grateful is also good for your health.  University of California Davis psychology researcher Dr. Robert A. Emmons and his team discovered in their Gratitude Research Project that people who are grateful report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.  In addition, grateful people tend to be more satisfied with what they have and so are less susceptible to such emotions as disappointment, regret and frustration.  The ran a fascinating article on the effects of gratitude in November:

Can gratitude be taught?

Yes.   In a study by Dr. Michael McCullough, author of The Psychology of Gratitude, he asked his subjects to write down four or five things they were grateful for each day.  In as little as two weeks, they began feeling happier.

This year, why not implement 12 months of Gratitude? It’s important to follow these steps all year long, not just during the holiday season!

12 ways to inspire gratitude in your kids and teens

  1. Daily Reminders. Take time each day to encourage your children to express gratitude. They can do this by making an entry in a family journal or by simply talking about what they are grateful for.  At dinner, parents can have kids and teens answer the statement “Tell Me 5 Good things about Your Day.”  Put up Positive Post-it Notes with Messages of Thanks or Positive Praise for your family.
  2. Model Thanks. As with everything, modeling is the best way to teach your children to be grateful. Be lavish with your thanks. Thank your children for hugs or for helping clean the house. Thank the cashier for ringing up your groceries. Letting your children see that you are grateful will encourage them to be so as well. Also be a good role model when helping others.  Holding a door for someone at the grocery store, asking a young mom with a baby if she needs help in a public restroom, or offering to help an elderly neighbor in the yard all make an impact on your children.
  3. Establish Rituals. Establishing rituals that highlight being thankful is a wonderful teaching tool. Start dinner with each family member sharing what they are most grateful for. Say goodnight by sharing what you were thankful for that day. Once a week have everyone at the dinner table say one thing he or she appreciates about another family member.
  4. Volunteer. Volunteering is a great way for your children to see gratitude in action. There are numerous chances in every community to volunteer. There are even websites geared towards volunteering opportunities for kids and teens.  Homeless shelters, nursing homes, and mentoring programs are just a few.  Or have your kids collect gently used toys or clothes to donate.  It feels good to help others. Your children not only benefit from that, but they also get to experience the warmth of appreciation.
  5. Assign Chores. Children learn by doing chores. They learn what it means to be part of a whole. They learn their contributions are important. They also learn that most things take effort. Simple household chores can help children learn to be grateful when they benefit from the efforts of others.
  6. Thank You Notes. Writing thank you notes for gifts is a very literal way of teaching your children gratitude. Putting down on paper what they enjoyed about a particular gift, reminds your children why they are grateful for it.  Besides writing notes for gifts, also encourage kids to write thank you notes to coaches, teachers, and family members who have been there for them.
  7. Express Gratitude for the “Little Things”. Always be on the lookout for things to be grateful for and express your gratitude. When your children hear you say things like, “Oh this rain will be so good for our grass” or “What a beautiful fall day, look at those leaves”, they realize they can be grateful for even the smallest of things.  My kids know I squeal if there is a new coffee creamer to try, if I find a dollar on the ground, or if I win a game of Uno.  It’s the little things!  Remind them how we take certain things for granted – like food, heat, and clothes.  Showing them examples of third world country children who go without these things is a way of teaching them appreciation for what they have, too.
  8. Teach It Through Role Playing. You can play games with your children that implement the virtue of gratitude. Have the kids act out a scenario where someone went out of their way for someone else, and have the receiver express gratitude. Even while playing dolls or stuffed animals, you can act out scenes of thanks and gratitude.
  9. Make a List (in a paper journal or online journal). Good ol’ Oprah made this popular a few years ago.  Writing down 4-5 things each night you are grateful for can make a big difference in your daily mood and mindset.
  10. Teach Gratitude While Going Without Things. Implement a week without t.v., computers, video games, or cell phones.  Your children (especially teens) will have a new appreciation for technology (and hopefully for family time) after going without for awhile.  Yes you can survive this week too!
  11. Teach them to see the good even during rough times. You can use a negative experience to teach them the value of being grateful. Rent the movie “PollyAnna” where she played the “Glad” game and found many things to be grateful for in every situation she encountered. Renting this video, watching and discussing it with them would be a great, gratitude building quality time family activity.
  12. Consider giving a “Gratitude Box” for birthdays throughout the year. Instead of putting a lot of money into a gift, consider creating a keepsake box filled with happy memories written on slips of paper.  You can also write down things you appreciate about a family member or friend.  A gift like this can be cherished for years to come and focuses on relationships rather than material possessions.

Thank you.


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