Gratitude Attitude in our Children: Why and How

Author: Debbie Houston

Thanksgiving is the time when we all pause to count our blessings, to give thanks, to be with family and friends, and to be grateful. While it is always good to stop and focus on gratitude at this time, it is even better to continue this attitude of gratitude all year long if we are to experience the benefits. Why? The benefits of cultivating an attitude of gratitude are many. Studies by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, reveal health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, reducing risks for depression and anxiety, and improving immune functioning. Additionally, there are positive impacts on choosing healthy behaviors. People who practice gratitude are happier people. Children benefit too! Their academic performance is enhanced; they are more involved in extracurricular activities; they have more positive emotions, and feel more satisfied with school and life.

http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/medicalcenter/features/2015-2016/11/20151125_gratitude.html

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/22/how-gratitude-affects-kid_n_4310927.html

So who doesn’t want all that? In fact, most parents lament when their children are demanding, always wanting more, feel entitled, and act so “spoiled”. So how do we inspire and teach gratitude? It turns out there are many things you can do and it all begins with YOU.

You will teach your children to have gratitude when you do and when you express that gratitude- you MODEL the behavior and attitude you want.

  1. Say “please” and “thank you” to your child, to your spouse, your friends and to strangers at the mall and in the restaurant. Start it early, do  it consistently, always, and make it part of your language.
  2. Talk about what you are thankful for each day, say a prayer or blessing, and express your gratitude. “I am thankful for that woman who held the door open for us. That was so nice of her and she could tell that we needed help”.

You will teach your children to have gratitude when you GIVE and you teach them to give. It is more than bagging up toys your child no longer wants; it is giving time, energy, service and love to others.

  1. Volunteer and give as a family. Rake your neighbor’s leaves and shovel her snow. Get your elderly neighbor’s newspaper from the paperbox and take it to her every day. Fix sandwiches for homeless people. Go and sing or just sit and visit with people at an assisted living or nursing home. Make it a family practice to give to others.
  2. Encourage your child to give. Your child might make and give cookies to a child who moved into the neighborhood or to someone who needs a bit of good cheer. Make cards together to welcome families to your neighborhood, church or temple or to send to a relative. Ask your child to share money and give to the Salvation Army kettle. Adopt a Christmas Angel together (a child that is the same age as your child) and have them pick out the toy or coat for that child.
  1. Talk about why you give as a family. Talk about how much you have, how blessed you are, why it is important to give. Keep it simple and non-lecturing. “We give because we have money and can help people and do good things with that money.” “We give because we want that child to have a great gift at the holidays just like you want a great gift.” “We go there and give our time and conversation because he is lonely.” “We give because we are called to be generous people.”

You will teach your children to have gratitude when you USE BOOKS and MOVIES to help you spread the message.

  1. Read aloud and talk about the characters being generous, kind, and grateful. Talk about the characters who are not. “Why do you think John did not want to share his toy?” “How did they solve the problem then?” “What things did Samantha do that showed you she was generous?” “What do you think was going on in the bear’s heart when he was grabbing all those things and keeping them to himself?”
  2. Reflect on the messages of the book. “What do you think the author was trying to teach in this book?” “How does this book tell us about gratitude?” “What did you learn about giving from this book?”
  3. As you watch a movie together, talk about how the characters are saying “please” and “thank you” and notice when you see gratitude displayed. Use the same conversation starters that you use when reading together. At the end of the movie, stop and share together. “ I am so glad that in the end, the children decided to give to others and be grateful.” I love how he learned to share and be thankful. Movies, such as, “Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving”, “The Rescuers”, and “Cars” can spark good conversations about gratitude.  
  4. Click here for a book list: http://www.the-best-childrens-books.org/teaching-gratitude.html

You will teach your children to have gratitude when you help them learn that their value does not come from external things – VALUE THEM FOR WHO THEY ARE – not what they do or what they have. Help your child see that it is not their things or winning that makes them valuable, instead it is who they are inside, because they are a gift to you and that you just love them…period.

  1. Before you begin on your child, first stop and ask yourself, “What messages am I sending about how much I value physical appearance and image, money and wealth, possessions and comparisons, or titles and status?” You might start there if you find yourself tempted by the “glitter” too. Please know that having money and things is not a bad thing; in fact, many good things can be done with money. It is harmful if those things have you or own you.
  2. Help your child by focusing on the internal, the character traits, the integrity rather than anything external. Change your “Good job! You are so smart!” to “You worked really hard on your writing and that hard work paid off! Change “I am proud of you” to “I am proud that you stuck with that puzzle because it was challenging. I can see that you are really learning a “stick-to-it” attitude.”
  3. Show your appreciation and love randomly. Instead of receiving your love when they do something well or that you like, change that to give your hugs and kisses and words of affirmation just because they are. Walk by them and say, “I just love you so much because of who you are.” “I adore you because you are a gift to us.” When they struggle learning something new, “I will love you forever, even if you never ever learn to ride a bicycle! I believe in you!”
  4. Children can understand that their value comes from within when you ask them how they feel instead of telling them how you feel. “How do you feel about your building?” instead of “I like your building.” or “I think you should make it a little taller.

You will teach your children to have gratitude when you help them learn the CONCEPT OF ENOUGH, when enough is enough, and when they have enough.  Please know that this concept takes time to teach to children and adults.

  1. Let’s face it, we all have difficulty with this! When do we eat enough, drink enough, have enough black pants, buy enough TVs or enough toys? Again, when we start with ourselves, only then can we begin to give away that understanding to others.
  2. Teaching them “that is enough” helps your child learn moderation. Using words “That’s too much.” “Oh, we overdid that.” “That is more than you need” and modeling, “That is more than I need.” “No, thank you. I have had enough.” will help your child begin to understand this.
  3. You might decide together, “How many books would be enough to get at Barnes and Noble today?” or “How much money is enough to spend on a pair of jeans?” “How much candy would be enough for you to get a treat and enough for your body to be able to handle?” Talking through the “enough” concept helps your child learn to regulate themselves too.
  4. When you think of enough, remember to use it beyond “things”. You can talk about enough food, time at the park, waiting, fun and excitement, loud stimulation. Help your child with language that says, “We have had enough __________ so now we need __________” “We have had enough play time so now we need to rest.” “We have had enough exciting games, so now we need to enjoy our books and puzzles or art supplies.” “We have had enough screen time, so now we need to go and run and play outside!”

  You will teach your children to have gratitude when you stop giving them TOO MUCH.

  1. Dang! I hate this one! We all want to give to our children, to shower them with gifts that we call affection. Here’s the deal: It is possible that when we do this, they learn that they get whatever they want; they make more demands for more stuff; and they do not learn to appreciate or be grateful for what they have. So what’s a parent or grandparent to do? Turns out, there are things you can do to help.
  2. Think of giving too much broader than the gifts. Perhaps, you give too much in activities and your child is overscheduled and so are you. Maybe, you give too much time and attention and your child is unable to entertain himself, be content alone, or demands you spend too much time and energy on him at the expense of others and your other relationships or at your own expense. Perhaps, you give too many toys so they don’t even enjoy what they have or play with them and instead always want another new toy. Identify the areas where you might be giving too much and instead of teaching them that you love them (your intent), they are learning these other things that you do not intend.
  3. Turn this around by helping your child show and tell her appreciation. Talk about the gratitude and ask them to tell you what they appreciate about having that toy or doing that activity. Talk about ways you all want to express our gratitude and appreciation. Establish the expectation that we write thank you notes to show our appreciation to Aunt Cheryl or GiGi. We tell people how much we appreciate their thoughtfulness.
  4. Also please know that it is a normal reaction to get angry, upset, disappointed and sad if you don’t get what you want – and that is true for children and adults too! You will allow your child to have these feelings for they are simply that – feelings. You will acknowledge them and may help your child name them, “I know it is hard not to get a toy when we go to the grocery store, and that you are sad about that.” You might just listen to your child beg (and you will not need to talk or try to reason with them). It is not helpful to rescue, take away or fix her feelings; just allow her to own them and process through them. Believe that your child can work through his angry or sad or disappointed feelings because they can and that is how they learn to accept and process their own feelings too.

You will teach your children to have gratitude when you help them DEVELOP SPIRITUAL CONNECTIONS.

  1. Messages of gratitude and blessings are frequently part of the spiritual teachings. Connecting to a community who serves others provides another opportunity for your child to give to others and serve alongside others too.
  2. Personal prayers, blessings and meditations can help children focus on gratitude, kindness, and love for others.

May this Thanksgiving and every day, be a reminder for each of us to be a bit more verbal about our gratitude, to count more blessings, have more self awareness, be more intentional and to grow in our attitude of gratitude. We can all be thankful that it benefits our own health and happiness and makes a positive impact on the lives of our children.

Grateful for you,

Debbie Houston, Head of School

If you want to read more:

http://www.essentialkids.com.au/development-advice/behaviour-discipline/growing-grateful-kids-20121007-2783m

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/love-and-gratitude/201305/4-ways-children-learn-gratitude

https://www.workingmother.com/how-to-really-help-your-kids-learn-gratitude-in-hectic-world