How to Teach Gratitude to Kids
Gratitude is the ability to show and give thanks. Gratitude is sincere and is displayed through actions, words, and nonverbal cues. Now for the big question: how to teach gratitude to kids. Children begin showing gratitude at a young age, generally beginning with the use of the phrase “thank you”. As parents, we reinforce the use of the words thank you as our children move from toddlers to teenagers, sometimes so frequently that it times the phrase seems robotic. How do we move from knowing how to say thank you to being able to offer and understand gratitude? Here are a few easy ways to teach your children the true meaning of gratitude.
Disclaimer: just because they have been taught does not mean they will show gratitude at every opportunity. But hang in there, with repeated lessons their understanding and display of gratitude will increase in both frequency and meaningfulness over time.
Lead by example
This is perhaps the most obvious and the most challenging way to teach gratitude. We as parents do so much for others, especially our children. We also expect our children to recognize and be grateful for our actions both seen and unseen. Whether it is getting meals on the table, providing rides to practice, or taking care of them when they are sick, parents frequently go underappreciated. So while we are feeling under-appreciated, we must at the same time lead by example and show our children what it means to be grateful.
Educate them with stories
Whether you choose to use the Bible, books, movies, or even some of the cartoons with social messages, defining gratitude will allow children to understand what it is and when they should feel grateful. Through the stories, children will also witness displays of gratitude and the emotion the person receiving the gratitude feels. Children are inherently good. They love making people smile, laugh, and proud. When you introduce them to stories of past and present, truth and fiction, you are a deepening their understanding of gratitude.
Here are some ways to show gratitude beyond using the phrase thank you:
1. Give specific thanks
Saying thank you is not enough. We need to offer specific feedback as to why we are using the words. Did your child listen to instructions the first time they were given? Did they make their bed without being asked? Maybe they just played nicely while you made dinner. What ever the action: repeat the action in your thank you.
2. Show thanks to other adults
This one is easiest to accomplish with a spouse, and may just help with your marital relationship as well as your parenting. Model by giving thanks when another adult does something to help you out. Sometimes you can even plan this. Did your husband do the dishes? Make sure you point this out not just him, but in front of the children. When we show children how grateful we are, they want to be the one receiving the gratitude. The way that receiving gratitude makes them feel will inspire them to show gratitude in return.
3. Use non-verbal methods
There is only so much talking one can do. When you run out of words, use hugs, high-fives, and thank you notes to show an even deeper appreciation. Have you ever mailed your child a thank you note? Children love receiving mail. In an increasingly digital environment receiving a hand written note is more personal than ever. You may find that your child keeps this note in his or her room and looks back at it frequently. Now this token of gratitude is not just read and forgotten, but instead is read and reread and remembered. As with any life lesson, reinforcement is key. Using this array of verbal and nonverbal methods will get your message about gratitude to stick the longest.
Bonus: create a gratitude space in your home
Once again, to make gratitude stick it needs to be both witnessed and practice regularly. When you dedicate a space in your home to show gratitude you are making A statement about the importance of giving thanks. Here is a step by step guide on how to implement a gratitude space in your home.
1. Pick a space. The space you pick should be seen every day by every member and your family. Out of sight out of mind. In sight, top of mind.
2. Set out jars or small baskets with each person‘s name or picture on them.
3. Gather your supplies. Set out small strips of paper, pencils, and thank you notes (for those larger gratitude needs).
4. Decorate. Put pictures and images and your space that define gratitude and how you plan to use it.
5. Discuss as a family how you will use the space. In our house we write frequent notes on the small strips of paper and place them in one another’s drawers.
6. Once a week take the time as a family to read the notes aloud. We like to read the notes and our own jars. We also like to read the notes on Fridays at breakfast. Planning a consistent time again reinforces that gratitude is a regular part of our lives.
These suggestions on how to teach gratitude to children will need to be changed, discussed, and made it to a version that fits your family‘s needs. But what I can tell you is that with regular practice, you will see positive change.
Gratitude is just one of the many pillars of character that turn young children into exceptional adults over the course of years. Gratitude in combination with other pillars such as kindness, accountability, and respect will have the largest impact on your child’s development.
“If the only prayer you ever say Is thank you, it will be enough.”