How to Teach Your Children Gratitude

Teach gratitude

By Jennifer Landis

You’ve lost sleep, energy, mental clarity and countless personal freedoms. Your word recall and patience are at an all-time low. There are times when those kids of yours get on your very last nerve, and you pray you won’t lose your mind.

Yet every single day you are so achingly grateful for them it takes your breath away.

Gratitude’s Saving Grace

Studies increasingly point to an attitude-of-gratitude as the key to maintaining positivity, resilience, self-worth and connectedness. Adults who practice gratitude are reported to have stronger immune systems, reduced anxiety and greater life satisfaction.

That’s not to say going with the flow and not sweating the small stuff is easy. Let’s face it: Sometimes it’s downright impossible.

However, taking a moment to see the big picture and focus on the upside somehow tips the scale back toward sanity — and remarkably — joy.

With that said, perhaps the best gift you can give your child is a palpable sense of gratitude. Studies show the act of being grateful results in a marked rewiring of the brain. So when better to start cultivating gratitude than during the early stages of your child’s development?

How, though? Consider these six suggestions:

1. Count Blessings

Sure, there’s numerous nursery rhymes, lullabies and religious verses about counting blessings, but for a child, the overall representation remains abstract at best. It’s more helpful to physically identify what we are thankful for by placing blessings in a child-friendly, interactive context. Here’s how:

Gather crayons, drawing paper and clothespins as well as a sturdy string for hanging. Encourage your child to pick three things that make him or her happy and color them, one on each page. Go ahead and do the same for yourself.

Let’s say your son draws a picture of his baby brother, cotton candy and the neighbors’ playful spaniel. Maybe you render a sketch of your coffee cup, a sun wearing shades and cozy slippers.

Secure two lines with the string, both within your child’s reach, and hang yours and your child’s blessings in full sight. The very act of writing or drawing blessings and pinning them up elicits a powerful mind-body connection that can’t be overestimated.

Blessings, of course, can be added over time. You may contribute some to your son’s line, and he can add to yours. Blessings may move around.

Try to remain silent and keep your own counsel when you see your child slide the blessing of his baby brother down the line in frustration. It will be so much more rewarding — and instructive — when he moves the little interloper back into favor on his own.

2. Make Gratitude Routine

Children thrive on routine. Predictability offers both safety and security. Set aside time to count blessings on a daily basis so practicing gratitude becomes instinctive. Establishing a bedtime routine is the perfect opportunity for this. After cleaning up and crawling into PJs, a mindful accounting of good and pleasant things settles children into a calm, thankful state.

Don’t forget that a restful nightly routine also paves the way for consistent, reasonable bedtimes and perhaps less weekday morning stress.

3. Model Grateful Behavior

When it comes to behavioral imprinting, you’re in the hot seat. Even if your child isn’t paying direct attention, he or she is inherently aware of your every action, reaction and mood nuance. Point out positive effort, note good deeds and identify all the big and little things that grace your life — from seasonal pumpkin spice ice cream to grandma always being available to help in a pinch.

Make sure many of the noted blessings center around your child. Praise helpfulness, suggest kind behaviors and appreciate specifically described actions. For example, “I was so proud of you when you offered to play with that child on the jungle gym,” or “I absolutely love listening to you sing while we walk to the park with your brother.”

Identifying concrete examples of positivity and communicating genuine appreciation enhances your child’s self-worth. It models another perspective necessary for your child to develop empathy. Don’t be surprised when your child starts complimenting you on your thoughtfulness!

4. Hold the Line

Despite all these early childhood lessons, you know the day will come when, for example, your son reports he’d be grateful for a motor scooter. He’d appreciate the fresh air whipping back his hair and playing with all his other friends who have one.

Welcome to your teachable moment.

A great way to continue cultivating gratitude is to help your child honestly distinguish between want and need. When anyone has a lot of stuff, it all starts to lose value. Why do some people have so much while others struggle with so little? How can we, as individuals and a family, shift that imbalance?

Be prepared for a lot of deep sighs and eye-rolling. Like when he relegated his baby brother to the end of the blessing line, be still, hold out and wait for it. The moment will come when he discovers his own solution.

5. Encourage Accountability

When your son offers to work for the money to buy a motor scooter, refrain from shouting that scooters were meant to be self-propelled. Your teachable moment isn’t over.

Identify the scooter’s price and discuss together whether working for it is even a reasonable endeavor. Ask your son what chores or tasks he’s thinking of doing to start the funding process. Feel free to offer your own suggestions. Make sure you set a clear price for each job in question and distinct criteria for what constitutes completion.

Now, if you really want to bring this lesson home, ask your child why he thinks working for what he wants might be beneficial in the long run. Don’t worry — a genuine, insightful answer will come, but likely much, much later. Definitely after the first sarcastic snort.

6. Volunteer as a Family

Volunteering as a family checks off every attitude-of-gratitude box. An ideal way to highlight the importance of service is through community effort, which demonstrates giving, and sharing in an immediate, personal way. There is no moral epitome to wait for, the magic of grace is right there, before your child’s eyes.

Luckily, grace is not a difficult word to recall — nor does it require you to be well rested. Grace is what your children have given you, and what you will give back to them in return.

Jennifer LandisAbout Jennifer Landis

Jennifer Landis is a mom, wife, writer, and blogger at Mindfulness Mama. She enjoys drinking tea, dark chocolate, and rainy day snuggles with her daughter. She enjoys sunny days, too, but finds they are less conducive for snuggles. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis.