As we approach Thanksgiving, many of us reflect on our blessings. As parents, we’re also pondering how to teach gratitude to our children.
Why is gratitude so important? It’s one of the keys to a happy, fulfilled life. In our fast-paced, often stressful lives, taking time to reflect on the positives can have great physical and emotional benefits.
Recent research by psychology professors Robert A. Emmons at the University of California, Davis, and Michael E. McCullough at the University of Miami found people who regularly practice gratitude feel happier, more satisfied with life, sleep better, are less stressed and build stronger relationships.
There are many fun and creative ways to teach gratitude at Thanksgiving. Here are ways to weave gratitude into daily family life. The benefits for your children will last far beyond the holiday season.
Teach basic manners. Teaching good manners is a great place to start. Saying “Thank you” is a simple way of expressing appreciation that even young children can do. For those old enough to write, thank-you notes also are important — and not just for gifts. Encouraging children to write notes of appreciation to people in their lives who mean a lot is a great way for them to express gratitude and bring smiles to the recipients.
Be a gratitude role model. Children learn by example, so the best way to teach gratitude is to model it for your children as often as possible. Acknowledging and rewarding your children when they express gratitude also is important; this will encourage them to do it more.
Create a daily gratitude routine. Setting aside time to practice gratitude as a family can become a meaningful family tradition. There are many ways to do this, including a gratitude jar (instructions below). When my boys were very young, we started a bedtime tradition of each of us sharing what we were most thankful for that day. At first, the boys’ answers were simple and focused on material things. With practice and age, their answers gained depth. That five minutes before bedtime enabled us to reflect on the day together and became something we all looked forward to. Gradually, the boys began thinking about things they were thankful for throughout the day, rooting gratitude in their daily lives.
Start a gratitude journal. For older children, writing in a gratitude journal is a great way to practice gratitude consistently. It can be as simple as writing down five things they’re grateful for each week. Over time, your children might increase the frequency because it feels good. You and your children can make your own journal together or find a wide variety for kids and adults online.
Volunteer as a family. Helping others is a great way to express your gratitude for the blessings in your life. Many families make it a tradition at the holidays. Even better, make family volunteering a year-round tradition. We started Families Giving Back to make it easier for families to find local volunteer opportunities.
It’s important to remember that children don’t naturally develop an “attitude of gratitude.” It’s a skill that must be learned and practiced consistently over time. Although you might not see progress overnight, your continued efforts will pay off in dividends as your children grow to become grateful, happy adults.
Family gratitude jar
This is a fun project for the holidays or anytime. Similar to a gratitude journal, you and your family can benefit from writing down and sharing things for which you’re grateful. You can make one for the entire family or let your kids have their own. Here’s how:
1. Choose a container — a jar, can, box — that has an opening at the top.
2. Decorate the container any way you’d like. It can be themed for the holidays or include quotes about gratitude. Let your creativity run wild.
3. Cut strips of paper for the expressions of gratitude. Place the container, paper strips and a pen in a visible spot in your house.
4. Read and share. Each day (or whenever you choose), have each member of your family write down at least one thing they’re grateful for and put it in the container. At dinner or another designated time, take turns reading aloud a paper from the container. The person who wrote the gratitude statement can share more about what they wrote.