Have you wondered how to teach your young children to be grateful when we live in a world where people around us complain or think they deserve certain things? It is a challenge many parents face with a lack of confidence. Research has shown that if adults focus on three to five situations daily, they are thankful for, their mood improves, and over time they are happier overall. Teaching your child at a young age to have gratitude is one of the best gifts toward life-long positive mental health they can receive.
Have you seen your child walk around talking nonsensible and holding a phone at an early age? And you laugh, realizing they are mimicking your behavior before they even understand full conversations? It is how modeling works. Children soak up your actions and words at such a fast speed because their brains are learning at a quick rate during their young years. They desire to be like you. One of the best and most important ways to teach thankfulness is to model it on purpose and often by expressing it through words (“I am so grateful I have the opportunity to spend time with you today”). Acts such as smiling, hugging, or being helpful help too!. Say it out loud often to various people and show random acts of kindness.
Create a ritual at the dinner table or bedtime where you say out loud three to five things you're thankful for, and/or make a gratitude jar and fill it with notes about who or what you appreciate and share them. We live in a culture where we have plenty of material needs, and reminding them of being thankful for a bright moon and stars and enjoying time to play together fosters a consistent grateful attitude.
Children need to know that when they face difficulties, they still have it pretty good. The next time they complain, model how to find the silver lining. If you have to wait in line at the grocery store, say, "at least we were able to get everything we needed for the whole week." It is crucial to not preach this message, but genuinely say it as an example for them to see and learn naturally. Practice seeing the positives with every setback and help your children find it.
Create situations that your children can observe and help you serve others who are less fortunate. Help the homeless by dropping off coats, serve at a soup kitchen, create gift boxes for children in other countries, and drop off food and clothes to shelters with other children.
written by Lisa Richardson, MSW,LISW-CP/Foster Care Advocate