Got ungrateful kids, or just hoping to start them off right when it comes to appreciating the big or little things in life? Much has been circulated lately about entitlement or priviledge, but the truth is, we’re all priviledged just to be here with opportunities and gifts all around us. With Thanksgiving upon us, it’s an excellent time to check in on your kids’ attitude about how much there is to be grateful for whether it’s heat coming through your vents on a cold morning, a provided meal at school or a sunny, crisp afternoon and a pile of leaves for the leaping. One thing is certain: complaining about what we don’t have doesn’t get us anywhere and showing off what we do have is a similar dead-end street.
How can you make sure your kids will grow up grateful for all that you provide for them? For the roof over their head and a family — or anyone — who cares about them?
Kids learn through modeling and repetition and gratitude is no exception. The more your children see or hear you showing thanks, the more seeds you plant in their hearts.
However, sometimes we ALL fail to appreciate our good fortunes. We whine about everything from our world problems to the gravy actually touching the potatoes on our plates. It’s good to take pause to observe our own interactions in the world and those of our children. To make sure that we’re not unappreciative, spoiled jerks, but rather human beings intent on living — and sharing — a good life.
In Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character (Templeton Press; 2015), authors Jeffrey J. Froh and Giacomo Bono note that young children first practice thankfulness as politeness, rather than genuine gratitude, which comes when they are old enough to appreciate why others are offering them kindness.
Saying, “please” and, “thank you” creates building blocks of gratitude for kids as they are learning to be in the world. If your kids are a bit older though — and you’ve had a moment or two of wondering if they “get it” or not — take a few days to observe your interactions and theirs. How often are you all expressing appreciation?
Here are a 6 ways to instill gratitude in your kids:
Roses and Thorns
Sometimes called simply “Highs and Lows,” this is a practice of each participant sharing one positive thing and one negative thing that happened during the day. Consider offering roses last to end on a positive note, or up your gratitude game by taking time as a family to consider what good may have come from the “thorns.”
Don’t forget to express thanks for the people with whom you can share these highs and lows.
Five Pennies, Beads or Pebbles
Have your child think of five things he is grateful for and allow each small treasure to represent one of those things. Keep them in a special spot or precious container, or take them to school in a pocket as a reminder throughout the day.
Downward Social Comparisons
Rather than lamenting how others have it better than you do, Froh and Bono suggest bringing attention toward friends and family whose plans haven’t worked out as they’d hoped. These types of downward comparisons encourage empathy. With that empathy, comes greater appreciation for the things we have. Kids also begin to see that everyone has a different perspective, and that their circumstances could spark envy in others.
Basket of Thanks
Keep a basket or other container in a prominent place in your home, along with index cards and pens or colored pencils. Encourage family members to write quick notes of thanks for people, pets and things in your home throughout the day.
Thank You Cards
Writing thank you notes cultivates thoughtfulness and gratitude, and can become a regular habit. Author and mom Sage Cohen writes and sends thank you cards daily.
“My son is very aware of my gratitude practice,” Cohen says. “In my household, writing thank you notes is like brushing your teeth, going to bed on time, and being gentle with the cats. It’s both modeled and required, but in a friendly and integrated way. It’s just a rhythm of life that we co-create and enjoy together,” she adds.
Rather than an occasional obligation, thank you notes can be an opportunity for family members to talk regularly about what and who they appreciate, as well as a time to consider what our words of thanks mean to the recipient.
Help your children keep a daily list of people and things for which they are grateful. Spending time to write or draw things we appreciate focuses our attention on them in a way that can magnify their value. Entries can be a simple drawing or more detailed written entries such as “I am thankful for …because …”
As a parent, in any season, you can plant seeds of appreciation and watch gratitude grow in your life, and in the lives of your children.