How to Teach Children Gratitude

As a parent, caregiver, or teacher, you may dread teaching your kids their long division because you barely know how to do it yourself, but then again, who does?

However, teaching your kid an abstract skill is a different kind of struggle. How do you in still values in children, such as empathy and gratitude? In this article, our focus is gratitude and how you can help your child acquire it with simple hacks.

What Does Gratitude Mean In a Child?

We often think of acts of appreciation when we think of gratitude, and indeed this was the focus of earlier studies on children's gratitude. However, modern psychology defines gratitude in a broader sense beyond just saying "thank you". After all, gratitude is a complex practice.

In addition, the Raising Grateful Children project at UNC Chapel Hill states that gratitude includes four components: what we notice, think, feel, and do.

Firstly, there are the things in our lives that we notice we can be grateful for. Secondly, there's the way we think about why we've been granted those things. The third component is how we feel about the things we've been given. And finally, the fourth is what we do to express gratitude.

Consequently, practicing gratitude entails using complex socio-emotional skills. And according to studies by the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Greensboro, children begin to acquire emotional knowledge and perspective-taking from ages 3 to 5. These skills are undoubtedly necessary for displaying gratitude.

So, is this timeframe an indication of how early children can learn to be grateful? Not exactly. You can certainly start there. But it's important to note that children can learn to be more thankful as they develop more cognitive skills. So, what we're saying is that young children may only be able to harness some of the four aspects of gratitude with the needed guidance.

For instance, 2 and 3-year olds may learn to be grateful for material objects. By age 4, they can learn gratitude for non-material things, such as love and time. But it may be a while before they can actively link the first three gratitude components to actions that express it.

So, what does gratitude mean in children? It's the manner by which they receive and give things. And improving that skill can genuinely transform their life.

That's due to the correlation between gratitude and happiness in children by age 5, affirmed by a 2019 study in the Journal of Happiness Studies. In other words, grateful children are likely to grow up to become happy adults. And there are dozens of studies mirroring that exact fact about children of ages 11 all the way to teens of 19 years.

Children and mindfulness

8 Ways to Teach Children to Be Grateful

1. Saying Thank You

Encouraging your kid to say thank you frequently is necessary. This method may look like a gentle reminder to thank someone who's done them a favor.

Also, it can be getting them to write thank-you notes and cards to people who gift them something or are kind to them. To illustrate, your kids can learn about gratitude by writing such cards to the people they know, including family members, beloved teachers, and even the mailman.

This way, you'll be negating the idea that a child is entitled to all the nice things people do or buy for them. Also, if your child expressed gratitude without being asked to, make sure to acknowledge that. And tell them how you appreciate their behavior because your positive feedback will only encourage them to show more gratitude.

2. Asking Questions About Gratitude

Although saying thank you is essential, it isn't enough to bring up genuine feelings of gratitude. After your child has learned to say thank you, you can dig deeper into gratitude by getting them to engage with its four components.

Engaging these components means pointing out that your child has received something, asking them how the gift/service made them feel, and asking them why they think they've received it. Hence, children can learn to muster up sincere gratitude that surpasses a well-practiced thank you.

Down below, we'll give you examples of questions you can ask children to engage each gratitude component if they were given presents:

Notice

  • What have you been gifted with?
  • What is it that you're grateful for in your life?

Think

  • Why do you think that person gave you a present?
  • Is this present something you've earned because of how you've acted?
  • Did this person have to provide you with the gift?
  • Do you think you owe that person something?

Feel

  • Does this present make you happy?
  • What is it about the gift that makes you happy?

Do

  • Is there something you can do to express your feelings about the present?
  • Are you encouraged to give a gift to someone else because of how happy this present made you feel?

3. Gratitude Jars

Another popular idea is to make a gratitude jar, list, or journal. You can place it on the kitchen table if you're a parent or the desk if you're a teacher. Also, kids can personalise that jar with colours and stickers. Then, you can ask them to write one thing they're grateful for each day and put it in the jar. Be sure to do so yourself so that kids can learn by example!

If this activity is too difficult to implement daily, you can use the gratitude jar when your kid is having a bad day.

4. Goodwill Projects

There's an abundance of goodwill projects that your kids can partake in to help others. During the project, you must engage your kids in conversations about how happy you're making others.

And you should also establish the fact that kindness shouldn't be reserved for the people they know; many community members deserve that gratitude as well.

Examples of goodwill projects include doing the yard work for someone, writing letters to thank first responders in your community after natural disasters, donating clothes and toys to the less fortunate, making cookies for a sick neighbour, and volunteering at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or non-profit organisation.

Furthermore, get the children involved in researching available charities, donation centers, and homeless shelters. Last but not least, hosting garage sales for fundraising is an excellent way of practicing gratitude.

Goodwill projects

5. Assigning Chores

It may be tempting to do things yourself because your kids might take too long or make a mess. However, doing everything yourself might give them a sense of entitlement; thus, they might appreciate your efforts less.

Otherwise, if you give them the opportunity to experience how demanding chores can be, they'll be more capable of empathising with anyone who carries them out. And we're merely talking simple tasks around the house, such as collecting the dirty dishes and feeding the cat.

6. Gratitude Rituals

Making gratitude a daily ritual in the family is crucial. There are many rituals that you can adopt. For one, you can establish sharing your gratitude at the dinner table as a habit. So, your family members would take turns to express what they're thankful for. Bedtime is also a good opportunity for that, as you can ask your kid to list 3 things they're grateful for.

Another great opportunity is the car ride to school, where everyone can express thanks to another person in the car. Moreover, you can decide on a particular day every week for your kids and family to write appreciation notes to anyone.

7. Modeling Gratitude

We've briefly alluded to this, but practicing gratitude yourself is vital. A study in Applied Developmental Science in 2016 detailed that grateful parents usually bring up grateful children.

Thus, if you want to teach children gratitude, you should say thank you and be verbal about what you're thankful for. Even on your bad days, make sure you talk about all the things you appreciate. At the end of the day, you can get your kids to play all the gratitude games in the world to teach them to be grateful, but if you don't mirror that, you won't get anywhere.

Gratitude with Kids

8. Saying No

Of course, you want to make your kids happy, but happiness isn't about giving in to their every desire. Kids may ask for games, toys, candy, and junk food all the time. We want you to say no occasionally. Saying no makes your yes way more special, thus filling their little hearts with gratitude and appreciation.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, gratitude is a complex practice related to how children notice what they should be grateful for, what they think about it, how it makes them feel, and how they express this gratitude with actions.

The key to teaching children about gratitude is to make sure you're giving enough attention to all the components of gratitude by any of the methods we've listed. Therefore, you can make gratitude a daily ritual, ask questions relating to each gratitude component, get children to do acts of kindness for others, and practice being thankful yourself.

If you make it a point to in still gratitude in children, they're more likely to grow up to be happy and successful. So, get off the internet, and go DIY a gratitude jar with your kids!

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