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Fostering Gratitude in Your Children

What parents can do for Thanksgiving and beyond.

One of the silver linings of the pandemic is it compels us to think about all that we are grateful for because of what we are currently not afforded with. We miss many of our freedoms and what we may have previously taken for granted. Typically, we have easy access to most things. Kids feeling entitled and assuming that they can easily get what they want is an easy mindset and habit to fall back into if a gratitude practice isn’t cultivated and practiced.

Having Gratitude Has Its Benefits

Studies on gratitude prove its positive impact on many levels. A study suggests that grateful adolescents are happier, more optimistic, have better social support, are more satisfied with their school, community, friends, and themselves, and give emotional support to others.

Another study reveals that teens who are more grateful are more satisfied with their lives, look to better their communities, are more engaged in their schoolwork and hobbies, have higher grades, and are less enviousdepressed, and materialistic. Gratitude is a mindset and lifestyle. These lessons can be taught throughout a child’s development and should be carried out consistently and continually.

Methods to Enhance Your Children’s Gratitude

Effectively fostering gratitude in your children entails you being cognizant, proactive, and mindful in your behavior. These 9 methods will help you to integrate a gratitude practice as an ongoing lifestyle so you will gainfully benefit individually and as a family.

  • Assess how grateful you personally are – You cannot teach and foster gratitude unless you embody and practice it yourself. Test your level of gratitude by taking this quiz on “How grateful are you? Understand “What good is gratitude?” See Dr. Robert Emmons video explaining the benefits of gratitude. Selecting from the 34 best TED Talks and videos on the power of gratitude.
  • Model gratefulness – Children learn and mimic the behavior of their parents. If it is expected that children exemplify compassion and care, they must observe that type of behavior from their parents to others and from their parents to them personally. Express gratitude to your child when they do something worthy of appreciation. Particularly note their thoughtfulness toward you and others. They will learn that there is more to life than superficiality and material items. Also, express gratitude toward others (your partner, another family member, or anyone who has assisted you) so they observe how to proactively carry it out.
  • Name what they are thankful for and why – Do not limit this during Thanksgiving, their birthdays, or during other special occasions. It could be a question your child answers daily. For example, you can ask, “What is the nicest thing that someone said and did for you today, and why did you feel grateful for it?” or “What do you feel grateful today about yourself, and why?”
  • Have them earn something they want – Tame the “gimmes.” Be mindful about distinguishing between things that your child wants as opposed to things that he/she needs. Have your child save up their allowance, birthday or holiday gifts, and fund what he/she wants. Your child will gain more perspective on the value of money and what you and others generously give to him/her.
  • Encourage them to send written thank you cards or speaking directly to others to express a thank you – Speaking to someone directly and sending a letter of gratitude is beneficial to teach these lessons. Kids most often follow through after receiving birthday or holiday gifts. Expand this to anyone who was particularly kind to your child such as his/her teacher, coach, pediatrician or adolescent medicine physician, barber or hairdresser, bus driver, etc.
  • Facilitate acts of kindness and generosity toward others – Acts of kindness and care should be an ongoing activity carried out by children on a daily/weekly basis. Going to a charity function once a year or once every six months is not enough to teach these core values. Otherwise children identify or link the charity happening at a certain time or event. For example, if every Christmas/Chanukah a family goes to a soup kitchen to help out, children view Christmas/Chanukah as a distinct time of helping and do not necessarily transfer the need to help at other times or occasions.

See to it that your child engages in volunteer or charitable activities. Empower your child to select causes that they personally feel passionate toward or can relate to. This will vary from child to child based on their interests, passions, and developmental age. This will enable your child to feel that they made the choice and will have a personal investment in achieving their selected charitable goals. Actively involving kids instills increased motivation, dedication, and desire to help.

Teach your child that there is a difference between being proud of themselves versus being full of themselves. Role play with them how to express graciousness and how to receive it. For example, ask your child what they would say to someone who got a new haircut they liked or made a good shot during their basketball game, and how they would respond if someone complimented them on theirs.

Gratitude is not only something nice to cultivate in our children but also central to their health, happiness, and well-being. As parents there are fundamental ways that we can develop and contribute to our children’s compassion and care. It is up to us to instill gratitude as a mindset and lifestyle.

Here is a progressive muscle relaxation guided meditation for kids led by me. Feel free to subscribe for my other guided meditations.

  • Teach the value of being empathetic and gracious – Make it a point to discuss with your children how they feel about various interactions, actions, and circumstances that they are confronted with. Also ask them to think about how another person may feel. Suggest that your child “puts them-self in another person’s shoes.” If they are not able to get there independently, make connections for them so that they can internalize how what they say and do makes an incredible impact on others (both for the positive and negative).

To develop compassion for other individuals, it helps to also foster self-compassion and the ability to be sensitive, caring, and compassionate toward one’s self. Your child will be better able to appreciate and have gratitude for human frailty, vulnerability, and our basic human needs.

  • Expand your child’s thinking so it is more open and flexible – Many kids have inherent negative and rigid thinking. They may see things unilaterally and tend to notice what is negative about things and situations. Their thoughts and feelings may be negatively based as well. This stream of negativity will make it less likely that your child will be able to tap into feelings of gratitude.

Help your child have different, more expansive, and hopeful ways of looking at things. A way to direct this thinking is to ask, “How else can you see this?” If they do not readily see it, offer them the various perspectives.

  • Coach kids on how to give and receive compliments and positive sentiments – We may be reluctant to express gratitude or accept a gracious sentiment directed at us. It may evoke feelings of embarrassment or fear that if we are accepting of it then we will be rejected or come across as self-serving, overly confident, or “full of ourselves.” It also leads to vulnerability in a relationship because we are making our self emotionally open and accessible.

Blog as posted in Psychology Today. 

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