Gratitude is a positive way of thinking and viewing the world. Raising a grateful child is a hard thing to accomplish in a culture that wants everything now and is quick to move onto the next best thing but gratitude is an important life skill. By learning gratitude, children learn to become sensitive to the feelings of others, developing empathy and other life skills such as the ability to view situations positively. Grateful children begin to learn to look outside their one-person world. When a child does not learn gratitude, there is a risk that the child may end up feeling entitled and perpetually disappointed.
Research suggests that gratitude is something that many adults have not yet developed and find difficult to practice. Children who are encouraged to be grateful throughout childhood, will typically be more appreciative later in life.
Strategies to Develop Gratitude
The research tells us that ‘gratitude’ is not an inherent natural behaviour, rather it is a learned behaviour. It is also important to remember that each developmental stage impacts on the capacity the child has to think ‘outside themselves’ and consider others.
We can begin to teach our children gratitude from a young age through modelling. Parents have to model behavior they hope their children adopt as their own. A simple, sincere expression of gratitude when your child does something they were asked to do is always appropriate. On the contrary, demanding ‘thanks’ from your children does not assist nurture the growth and development of gratitude.
We can begin to teach our children, and ourselves, how to think gratefully, by practising the following skills:
Teach our children to focus on the positive and find gratitude. This can be done by creating a gratitude journal and can be done as a family. Reflect together on the best parts of the day. This teaches children to pause and think about the good things in their day. Also, redirecting children’s attention to all that they currently have, rather than ‘what they want’.
Celebrate the ‘small’ things. Help your child focus on the things they have achieved, whether big or small. Sharing successes with family members and friends, keep a special folder or box and collate ‘keepsakes’ which help the child remember what they have achieved, the positives in their lives and the happy experiences and memories.
Teach through example. If you notice a lack of the gratitude attitude, consider teaching through example. Responding in a grateful way, and labelling this ‘gratitude’ behaviour will assist your child learn the ‘how to’ of gratitude.
Establish family rituals. By having family rituals which centre around gratitude, children learn to express thanks. Examples of family rituals include, each family member listing one thing they were grateful for during their day, or, writing thank you notes to each other once a week.
Try going without. From time to time, consider a family project that involves going without something important. For example, try making bread for a week rather than buying it, or try walking in your local area, rather than using a car. A little sacrifice causes us to miss things that we take for granted and helps us be a more humble and grateful when the thing is restored.