During the Thanksgiving holiday, we take the time to reflect on how we are thankful for the things and people in our lives. For many of us, we celebrate this time of year by visiting relatives, having get-togethers, eating good food and sharing memories. And while those are common Thanksgiving traditions, many of us probably wonder how we can maintain that grateful spirit throughout the year. With the busyness of life and our natural tendency to focus on what’s not going well in our lives, it can be difficult for us to maintain a thankful spirit—let alone teach our children to.
However, research has shown that when we show and express gratitude or thankfulness we are more likely to be more optimistic about our lives and have fewer physical ailments, and we’ll also feel inclined to exercise more. Another study also found that when we practice gratitude daily we experience more energy and enthusiasm—which ultimately leads us to get more accomplished and feel more in control of our lives, thus giving us even more to be grateful for.
Based on these proven benefits of gratitude, it is imperative that we not only create and maintain a spirit of gratitude in our own lives, but that we also work diligently to raise thankful children. Kids are known to be self-centered, but that doesn’t mean that cultivating thankfulness is impossible. Here are four ways you can raise a child who understands and practices gratefulness year-round.
The best way to raise a child who illustrates gratefulness is to be a grateful parent around your child, and psychotherapist Elena Schechtman, LMFT, has a really simple way to begin modeling thankfulness with your child. “Comment on the things you’re thankful for with simple and genuine statements,” she says. “Start with little things in your day, such as being able to eat your favorite breakfast or listen to your favorite song. Narrate your gratitude out loud to your child.”
Our children learn best when they see us practice the same skills that we ask them to use. When they see us respond with gratitude to everyday things in our lives, they are more likely to exhibit those same behaviors as well.
Explain The Value of Things
When we understand the value of things we tend to be more grateful for them, and, the adverse is true as well. When we aren’t shown the value of things, we tend to have more entitlement. Children will always want more and ask for more, but when we slow down and help them earn the things they want, they are more likely to feel grateful for what they get because they understand the value of the time and effort it took to receive them.
A good strategy is to begin a system where your child can earn money for chores around the house and then use it when you’re out shopping to purchase small items that they want. Then, as your child gets older, include him in family budget discussions so he can understand how money works. And aside from focusing on material things, you can help your child write a list of people he is grateful to have in his life, while also listing one reason he is grateful for that person. This strategy will help him see the value in people and relationships.
Hold A Space For Your Child
This strategy is one that we often overlook when we are thinking about raising a thankful child, but it is one that will help him maintain a consistent gratitude practice. We hold a space for children as they learn to be thankful by showing them that it is normal to feel ungrateful at times and that it is also normal to not feel very grateful when things aren’t going well. Even though we want children to be grateful, we also want them to know what it feels like to be wholly human—which means we don’t have a positive, grateful attitude all the time. A good strategy for holding this space for your child is to let them express how they feel and help them brainstorm ways to release the feelings that come up when they’re feeling ungrateful.
You don’t have to wait for a special time or holiday to be grateful; you can simply add it to your family’s daily or weekly routine. Start by having a gratefulness jar in the house and challenge everyone to write one thing a day that they are grateful for and place it in the jar. Then, at the end of the week, your family can look through all the notes and take a healthy look at how much everyone has to be thankful for. You can also add a moment during family time—whether at dinner, before watching TV or just before bed—during which each member in the family says one thing that he or she is grateful for. Another example is to begin a tradition of thanking each other for completing chores or doing odd jobs around the house for one another. The goal here is to incorporate gratitude into your everyday habits so that it becomes commonplace—even when it’s not Thanksgiving.
Mercedes Samudio, LCSW, is a parent coach who has been working with families for years helping them achieve results in developing dynamic parent/child relationships, ending the shame around parenting and giving parents the confidence to raise healthy children in today’s world. She is a leading parenting expert certified in nonviolent parenting and attachment parenting who received her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Southern California and Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from UCLA.
Mercedes believes that all parents need support to develop their parenting skill set. You can read more about her parenting expertise at http://theparentingskill.com.