Seven simple ways to boost gratitude in kids and help them learn to count their blessings 365 days a year!
Let’s start with a Reality Check: Researchers are seeing a disturbing upsurge of kids who are a bit too spoiled, a bit too unappreciative, less empathetic, a bit too self-centered and a bit more ungrateful for all the good things life has to offer. Are you seeing that trend? If so, we have only ourselves to blame. “Spoiled, self-centered and materialistic” are learned behaviors and are not locked into our children’s DNA.
Of course, we want our kids to be happy, but have you noticed that sometimes our best intentions backfire? Instead of our kids being grateful for what they are given, they are disappointed or always seem to want “more?”
In all fairness, there are a number of factors that curtail our kids from being appreciative about the good things of life. For starters:
~ A relentless consumption-driven media that pushes kid to think they need more and a fast-paced lifestyle that leaves little time to help kids count their blessings.
~ A sometimes overwhelming impact of all that constant troubling news that focuses on the bad parts of life instead of helping kids (and us) appreciate the good.
~ Our parental guilt for not being home or “doing enough” for our kids kicks in.
~ A misconception that giving into our children’s desires is what makes them happier-and directly counters the research.
~ Then there’s those competitive instincts that compel us to keep up with the Jones, so we lavish our kids with the latest and best of everything.
Whatever the cause for the lack of appreciation, there is one crucial reason we must change for our kids’ sake:
REALITY CHECK: Compelling research now proves that the happiest and most empathetic children are the ones who feel a sense of appreciation for life—and that’s regardless of their wealth or personal circumstances. Studies also show that because kids feel grateful they are actually more joyful, determined, optimistic, resilient, less stressed and even healthier.
If you hope your child can achieve those essential character traits (and what parent doesn’t) then you must replace any hint of an ungrateful attitude with gratitude. The good news is that there are also simple proven strategies to make that change happen for your child. Here are a few ways to boost an Attitude of Gratitude in our children 365 days a year from my new book, Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine.
7 Simple Ways to Boost Kid Gratitude 365 Days a Year
1. Model Gratitude
Kids learn gratitude by seeing others display appreciation in everyday, unplanned moments.
How often do your kids see you convey your appreciation with hugs, words, or small notes to others?
How often do you tell your kids how much you appreciate them?
How often do you remind your children how much you value gratitude?
Tune up your own Attitude of Gratitude so your kids are more likely to copy your example. The fastest way to boost character is also through example.
Use three steps to express your gratitude so your child has a model to copy.
One of the simplest ways to help children learn to express their gratitude is by watching and copying. So whenever you thank someone use these three steps to express your gratitude:
Step 1: Tell the person what they did that you are grateful for (“Thank you for helping me cook the meal for Mrs. Jones”),
Step 2: Express the effort it took for the person to do this (“I know it took your time away from your family and you had to reschedule for me”) and then
Step 3: Describe how it made you feel. (“Your effort really made me happy and appreciative.”)
2. Set Limits
Having “too much” squelches appreciation. New research suggests that wealth may actually reduce empathy. The reason? As our wealth grows, our need for people decreases. Nicholas Kristof points out in his blog, “How Do We Increase Empathy” that heart rates of wealthier research subjects are less affected when they watch a video of children with cancer. And 20 percent of Americans give significantly less to charity than those with less wealth.
So fight the tendency to overindulge your child with too many things. Set limits!
Always giving kids what they want does not help kids learn to be grateful and appreciative of what they do have. And all that giving can reduce empathy.
3. Thank Your Kids
Don’t overlook your kids’ daily thoughtful deeds. Just be sure to tell them what they did that you appreciate so they are more likely to copy your example and send their own “Appreciation Messages” to others.
4. Expose Children to the Less Fortunate
Face-to-face experiences can go a long way in helping kids appreciate their blessings.
So find ways for you and your child to do charitable work whether it’s playing with kids in a homeless shelter, reading to the blind, building low-cost house, or delivering meals for the bed-ridden. Consider simple ongoing service projects for your whole family to do together. Just make sure you find ones that support your children’s interests and strengths.
The most popular community service projects among tweens and teens are 1. Helping children in need; 2. Advocating for the environment; 3. Supporting homeless people. Source: Harris Interactive, Sept. 2009
My girlfriend set a family tradition years ago. Every Thanksgiving her family goes to a soup kitchen to help serve dinner to the less fortunate. Her children-now grown-say it was the best family memory of the holidays. They learned from their parents’ example the importance of giving to others. Do the same ritual during the holiday season, and then weave it into every other season, holiday, weekend or day.
The more children practice gratitude, the greater the odds that they will adopt it as a habit and life attitude.
5. Expect Your Kids to Say “Thanks”
Parents who raise grateful kids don’t do so by accident. They expect their kids to be appreciative and saying, “thank you” is required from the time their kids learn to talk.
Keep in mind that kids may need constant reminders: “Did you remember to thank Jeff’s mom?” Don’t overlook their slips: “You can call to thank her when you get home.”
And also take a few minutes to help your children reflect on why they are appreciative.
6. Understand the Emotion Behind the Gesture
A hard lesson for kids to learn is that they’re really thanking the person not for the gift but the thoughtfulness behind it.
“Grandma thought a lot about what to give you this year.” “Kevin went to five stores to try to find what would make you happiest.”
Keep reinforcing the thought that went into the deed. Practice with your child before the birthday, the family reunion, the holidays or any occasion where you child may be receiving a gift. Help him or her learn how to be appreciative.
7. Teach Kids to “Count Their Blessings”
Gratitude isn’t learned from lectures but routines. Start simple family rituals that will help your children adopt an Attitude of Gratitude and appreciate their fortunes. Sure, you can say a prayer of thanks together before meals, but extend that ritual so your children learn to count their blessings every day and reflect upon the good things in their lives. Here are a few ideas:
~ Review the good things. Help your children “Count their Blessings” every night by just reviewing all the things they are grateful for. Our children are exposed to so much of the doom and gloom about life. Let’s help our children reflect on the simple, wonderful good things in our lives that we so often take for granted. You might even cut out “Good News” (usually in the back pages of newspapers) that other folks are doing to make the world a better place and share them with your kids.
~ Say “Thank you ABCs.” This one is great for younger kids to do at the dinner table. You and your kids say the alphabet together, but for each letter include something you are grateful for: A, Aunt Helen; B, my brother; C, my cat and so on. ThentTake it up one notch by having the person explain why he is grateful. Families with younger kids rarely get beyond H, but the point is that you’re having fun together, and your kids are also learning to be appreciative. Older kids can reveal one thing they are grateful for that happened to them during the day, and then describe “why.”
~ Say “Thanks.” Say a prayer of thanks together before meals. Some families take turns so that each night a different member leads the prayer of gratitude.
~ Create Bedtime Family Blessings. Each child exchanges messages of appreciation for one another, followed by a goodnight hug and kiss.
Enjoy these next days with your family and your time together. Just don’t forget to pause and count your blessings together and review all the things-both big and little-you are grateful for. After all, isn’t that what families are all about?
What are you doing to help your children learn an Attitude of Gratitude? I’d love to hear your comments! After all, one of the simplest ways to create a kinder, happier world is by cultivating kindness and gratitude in our children. Please pass on your strategies so we can all get on board together and raise grateful kids.
Dr. Michele Borba
This article is an excerpt from my book, Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine (March 2021). that explains why the old markers of accomplishment (grades, test scores) are no longer reliable predictors of success in the 21st century — and offers 7 teachable traits that boost resilience and will safeguard our kids for the future.
Also check out: UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. You’ll find dozens (over 300) simple, proven ways to cultivate empathy in children as well as help them learn the nine essential habits that nurture empathy. The book is now in hardback as well as paperback and Kindle.