While it is developmentally appropriate for kids (especially younger ones) to be self-centered, it’s never too early to start teaching your children how to be grateful. There are many benefits to cultivating gratitude, including an increase in positive emotions, better recovery from stress, and healthier physical habits. Here are nine ways to teach your children gratitude.
Set an Example
One of the best ways to teach kids almost anything is to set an example by doing it yourself. Children learn by imitating the adults around them. When you show gratitude toward others in your life (including your kids!) on a regular basis, they can often intuitively integrate this practice into their own lives. And if you’re having trouble getting in touch with your own sense of gratitude, make sure you’re the best parent you can be by scheduling personal time, finding ways to have fun, and spending intentional quality time with your kids.
Learn About the Miracles of Nature
Few things strike wonder into the heart of a child as much as the miraculous world around them. Take a nature walk and observe the symmetry in leaves, touch trees, cross rivers, breathe fresh air, and talk about how amazing it all is. If you can’t get out in nature, gather the family and watch a nature documentary together.
Even if you can take them for a weekend hike, documentaries and TV shows are a wonderful way to learn about other parts of the world and appreciate the vast diversity of nature. You’ll be delighted to hear their insights and the awe in their excited voices as they explore the world around them.
Give Them Less
Kids want things when they want them. But getting a lot of stuff runs counter to learning gratitude. The more you give them, the less special each gift becomes and the more there is to distract from what they have. When getting a new toy is a special experience, there’s more opportunity to be grateful for the gift.
Instead of buying something for your kid on the spot, ask them to think about why they want that toy over a few days and talk to you again when they know. Instead of automatically replacing something they’ve lost or broken, explain to them the value of taking care of their possessions. The practice of giving children fewer things also has the benefits of encouraging them to be creative in play, find satisfaction in other activities, and develop more appreciation for what they do have.
Make a Gratitude List
Taking a moment to stop and reflect on things that have happened in the recent past is a great way to foster gratitude in your children. You can make this a nightly practice, perhaps something you do at the dinner table or at bedtime along with reading. Or, sit down with your kids to make a gratitude list every week. Chances are, they’ve had experiences that week they’re grateful for even if they were not necessarily aware of their gratitude at the time.
Teach Them to Help Others
There are many ways, both organized and informal, to get your kids involved in helping others. This can be as simple as preparing a meal for a sick neighbor, or a longer-term project like becoming friends with an older adult in an assisted living home who doesn’t have family of their own to visit. There are many options for kids when it comes to volunteering to help someone. Giving to others teaches kids to appreciate what they have, which fosters gratitude.
Encourage “Thank Yous”
It may seem like a simple thing, but not all kids are comfortable saying “thank you” to others. Model this behavior by thanking service workers, your partner or friends, and your kids themselves when they do something you ask of them. If kids are shy, it can help to practice this simple exchange with them: Offer them something small and have them respond with either “yes, thank you” or “no, thank you.” Or have them role play with a favorite stuffed animal or doll.
Another way to instill this behavior is to keep thank-you cards on hand and write them with your kids when they want to express appreciation. You can pick out cards with the kids or try some free printable notes. These are perfect for giving to teachers, coaches, librarians, and friends’ families. Ask your kid what they want the card to say when they’re too young to write it themselves, and let them start writing on their own as soon as they’re able.
Include Kids in Meal Prepping
When things magically appear in front of children, they may not understand the work that’s gone into those things. Use something you do every day—meal preparation—to teach your kids about the labor that goes into the food they eat so they better appreciate those meals. This appreciation leads to gratitude for the food itself as well as the time you put into making it.
Give to Charity
Like helping others, giving to others helps kids learn to be grateful for what they have. This can be especially true when they give away things that may have felt precious to them. Set an example by making a regular practice of going through your own closets for stuff you no longer need and thus encouraging your kids to do the same.
If they get an allowance, you can suggest that they save a small portion every week to donate to a cause they care about. This will also help your kids think about the world and identify their own interests and passions.
Assign Them Household Chores
Like with toys, when kids have everything done for them, they don’t learn to appreciate the work that has to happen to keep things going. When your partner is away on a business trip and you have to do their household tasks, don’t you appreciate them more when they return?
Give your children manageable tasks, like taking out the garbage or setting the table. Be patient with them, and tell them you appreciate their work when they’re done. Talk to them about the chores you do, too, so they have the opportunity to understand that you’re doing things for them on a daily basis.
As you can see, there are many simple ways to build the practice of gratitude into daily life as well as new things you can encourage your kids to start doing that will help them engage with the world differently.