By: Dr. Michelle Wonders, Clinical Director at the Devereux Pocono Center in Newfoundland, PA. Pennsylvania Licensed Psychologist and an active member of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association.
There is growing evidence that practicing gratitude has major benefits in a variety of areas, including higher grades, perceived feelings of happiness, relationships, providing support to others, optimism and physical and psychological health and well-being. But what exactly is gratitude? The Oxford Dictionary defines gratitude as “being thankful, readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness”. Teaching children manners to express gratitude, such as saying “please” and “thank you” is only the first step.
Instilling a true deeper sense of gratitude is a skill that is to be practiced and developed much like a muscle. This sense of appreciation extends to both the big things, such as gratitude for health and a warm home, to the day-to-day small things, such as being thankful that someone passed the salt or for a person holding a door open. The overall idea is to be more attuned to the positive things in life, and focus less on problems and material possessions. As we approach the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, there is no better time to think about practicing gratitude. Here are 6 tips for teaching children the art of gratitude.
- Model gratitude for children. Children want to be just like their parents. They imitate, emulate and say and do the things they see their parents do. If parents engage in gratitude, children will follow suit.
- Enlist the child’s help. Have children complete regular chores or tasks. This will teach them the value of hard work and they will appreciate when others do things for them
- Discuss gratitude with your child. Make gratitude a daily part of conversation. It will help gratitude become a habit and increase the child’s positive outlook and optimism.
- Build on the child’s strengths to practice gratitude. Use the child’s strengths and interests in building the gratitude muscle. This will help them learn and practice this skill in an area of comfort and competence.
- Have children perform acts of kindness. Teach children to write thank-you cards and to help others, such as helping neighbors carry groceries or rake their leaves, with no expectation of payment or compensation.
- Be patient while the child is learning. As stated previously, gratitude is a learned skill and must be built. If this is a new skill, it may take some time to change the old way of thinking.
BONUS TIP: Fostering gratitude during the holidays. During the busy holiday season, children often receive so many gifts that they may lose sight of the real meaning of the season and experience increased feelings of entitlement. Emphasize the family time, traditions, and the true meaning of the holiday in the family. In addition, limit the number of presents in order to help children feel more appreciative of what they receive. Finally, having children make homemade gifts will help them understand the real meaning of “It’s the thought that counts.” They will truly understand when they see their grandparents’ faces light up at receiving a handmade card or present.