When children practice being thankful at a young age, habits are formed that can structure a greater chance of happiness throughout life. Individuals who are thankful, regardless of personal circumstance, often live happier and healthier lives. Studies show that increased gratitude can result in positive self-esteem, healthier relationships, psychological health, enhanced empathy and more.
Practicing gratitude is especially important during a challenging or stressful time, like the COVID-19 pandemic. Recognizing the goodness in in life can lessen our fear and anxiety, and help us maintain a positive attitude.
While everyday moments provide opportunities to teach thankfulness and gratitude, parents may feel extra motivated to keep children’s attitudes appreciative as the holiday season approaches. There are many approaches that can be practiced year-round to encourage ongoing gratitude in young children.
Express gratitude in conversation
Family, friends, shelter and basic necessities can easily be taken for granted during the mix of everyday life. Make a point to have engaging conversations with young children to recognize that these things in life are not a given, but something to be thankful for. Talk about the things you are grateful for, then ask children to say things in life that they are thankful for. Keeping this conversation flowing on a regular basis will help to teach young children what gratitude is, while encouraging them to think about the things they are thankful for.
Family meals at the dinner table provide a great atmosphere for conversations about “counting blessings.” When chatting about daily life, make a point to remind children to appreciate their mentors, including teachers and coaches. Additionally, family meals provide an opportune time to practice manners, politeness and respect.
Write thank you cards
Writing thank you cards is increasingly becoming a lost art, especially in the digital age. When children write thank you cards after receiving gifts or being the recipient of a kind gesture, they must think critically about what they want to write and why they are thankful. Hand-written cards have a meaningful impact and give children the chance to express sincerity.
Explain to children that if someone takes a moment to do something kind, the recipient can take a moment to write a special thank you. To lead by example, parents can write a thank you note to their child on occasion to keep the spirit of gratitude alive. Writing in cards also helps to practice penmanship and exercise literacy skills.
Teach kids to donate
Children who have overused or unwanted toys and clothing can learn gratitude by donating their items to others. Donating is a teachable moment that can help children to understand that not every household has the same resources or opportunities as others. An “old” item can feel like a brand-new gift to another child.
Emphasize why it’s important to donate to others. Giving even small items can have a big impact on the lives of other children. You can start by sorting through your own belongings with your child and donating what others might be in need of. Then, encourage your child to take the lead in deciding which of their items they would like to give to others. Help make giving to others a habit by sifting through items monthly or seasonally.
Integrate volunteering into your child’s life to help them become thankful, empathetic, accepting and compassionate. The act of volunteering helps show children that donating time is just as significant as donating material items. A person’s kindness and time can be more important than the gifts they give.
Talk with your child about the range of volunteer opportunities they can participate in and ask them to choose a cause they feel connected to. A child who has an interest in plants may like to help build a neighborhood garden, while a child who has a special connection to their grandparents may feel best volunteering in a retirement community. Join your child in their volunteer activities so they build meaningful memories around volunteering. There are community volunteer opportunities available to children of all ages, like those at Southwest Human Development or with our friends at St. Vincent de Paul’s family dining room.
Adopt a ‘pay-it-forward’ mentality
Making someone’s day can happen with gestures big and small. Teach your child to always “pay it forward,” responding to a person’s kindness to oneself by being kind to someone else. Children can pay it forward to a friend, or make new friends at school by partaking in a kind gesture. Teaching children about paying it forward helps children to practice unsolicited and unconditional kindness.
Finding support and getting advice
Southwest Human Development’s Birth to Five Helpline gives parents the opportunity to call or text an early childhood expert for free! For a variety of early childhood-related questions or issues ranging from feeding to sleep to general parenting advice, parents, caregivers and professionals can contact the Birth to Five Helpline for personalized assistance. Birth to Five Helpline specialists are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Learn more at www.birthtofivehelpline.org.
Southwest Human Development is Arizona’s largest nonprofit dedicated to early childhood development. Learn more at www.swhd.org