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The holiday season brings a lot of introspection about gratitude and thankfulness, and we love that. But how can we raise our children to feel gratitude all year round, not just when the festive occasion calls for it?
A major parenting goal for most of us is raising a thankful child who really appreciates all they’ve been given. Besides the inherent value of gratitude, raising grateful kids also increases their chances of being happy kids (and adults).
Gratefulness is a key component of kids’ social-emotional development. Other benefits of gratitude include:
- improved mental health
- stronger relationships
- higher levels of self-esteem
- better physical health
- increased sense of happiness
Gratitude is more than behavior—it is also an internal experience. So, how exactly do we learn to cultivate these values within our kids from the beginning? It starts with the recognition that cultivating gratitude is a skill that must be learned and practiced.
We know that children see, children do. Parents are children’s first role models. To raise a grateful child, you need to walk the walk. Use every chance you get to show by example.
Here are several ways you can model gratitude for your children:
Say “Thank you.” Whether you thank the clerk at the store or you thank your child for clearing the table, make sure you’re thanking people often.
Talk about gratitude. Make it a point to share what you’re grateful for. Even when you have a rough day or something bad happens, point out that there’s still a lot to feel grateful for. Instead of complaining about the rain, talk about being grateful that the plants are being watered so you’ll have food to eat.
Express gratitude. When your child sees you writing “thank you” notes or sending a token of appreciation to someone, you’ll teach them to do the same.
Perform random acts of kindness
There are many things your child can do to show appreciation for other people. This might involve returning a favor, like loaning a toy to a friend who is kind. Talk about how there are many ways to show people that you’re grateful for all they do. You might even decide to take on a family project, like writing thank you letters to the first responders in your community after a natural disaster. Make it clear that you don’t need to reserve gratitude for those individuals that you know personally—there are many people in the community whom you might feel grateful for as well.
Create a Family Gratitude Project
A family project can be a good way to get everyone involved in expressing gratitude. Some examples would be:
- Create a family gratitude board where everyone can add notes about what they’re thankful for. Whether you use sticky notes, a whiteboard where everyone writes with a marker, or colorful pages that can be tacked up, it’s a fun exercise for the whole family.
- You could also create a gratitude jar that everyone contributes to. Keep a jar in an easily accessible place, like the kitchen, and keep some slips of paper handy. Encourage everyone to write down something they’re grateful for and put it in the jar. Gather together regularly to read them together.
Celebrate the little things
Make it a point to celebrate everyday things. It sets a positive tone. Do it when you sit down for dinner or when all of you sit together and catch up. Have each family member—including children and adults—share something nice, big or small, that they experienced that day. Enjoy the feeling. And make it a daily habit.
When we draw attention to “gratitude moments,” which can occur throughout our day, and when we express gratitude to our partners and others, and especially to our kids, it helps them learn to find the good in every situation.