’Tis the season to think about gratitude, and I have been thinking about ways to help my kiddos become more aware of and thankful for all of the goodness that surrounds them in this world.
Having a toddler who is adding to her vocabulary at an astronomical pace, I am often encouraging her to add “thank you” to her toddler babble. We all know that gratitude is important, which is why we coach our little ones to use words of thankfulness from an early age. But what else can we do to cultivate gratitude in our children? To help them recognize their blessings and acknowledge them?
These are the five main ways that I try to encourage my kids to be more thankful:
Lead By Example
This is at the top of my list, because I know that my actions speak louder than any lesson that I could teach my kids. But I think it goes beyond making sure that my kiddos hear me saying “thank you” and see me writing thank you notes. I think it is important for my kids to hear me verbalizing how a kind act has made me feel, which can help them to better understand what gratitude feels like. This, in turn, could help them be more likely to recognize and express their own feelings of gratitude.
For example, instead of giving an automatic “thank you” when The Professor tells me he has finished his chores, I try to say something like “I appreciate that you are taking care of your chores. Since I don’t have to spend time reminding you, I will be able to get my own chores done more quickly. It makes me happy to save that time. Thank you!”
Make Gratitude Routine
When the kids were younger, we had a routine at our nightly family prayer where we would each say something that someone in our family did to make them happy that day. For example, Mini-Me might have said “It made me happy when Mom made spaghetti for dinner.” Mr. Blue Eyes might have said “It made me happy to see Mini-Me and The Professor sharing their toys.” Again, I wanted the kids to think about and verbalize how they felt when someone did something kind, rather than just say “I’m thankful for Mom’s spaghetti.”
However, any gratitude routine is helpful, and I want to get back in the habit of adding gratitude to our day. It might be discussing things we’re grateful for at the dinner table, keeping a family gratitude journal, saying one thing we’re thankful for before leaving the house. It really could be anything…I have found that the important thing is the routine. When the kiddos are expecting some sort of gratitude discussion, they are more likely to be watching for things they are thankful for as they go about their activities.
There is something about serving others that fills the heart with gratitude. Filling a need for someone, no matter what that need might be, makes children (and adults) feel useful and appreciative that they could be in a position to help someone else. I don’t think it’s necessary to view service as an opportunity to be grateful for what one has in contrast to what someone else lacks. Rather, service is an opportunity to acknowledge gifts and blessings in our own lives by being able to USE them.
I remember when we had “Help Someone” as one of our summer bucket list items. I was still feeling a little crummy from chemo but was on the mend, so the kids and I helped a neighbor pull weeds. I walked away from those freshly-manicured flower beds feeling so grateful that my improved health allowed me to be in a position to serve someone else. Service is a powerful tool for building gratitude!
Pick Up a Pen
Ah…..the good old-fashioned thank you note. It is a classic for a REASON! I try to help my children write thank you notes as often as possible. As the kids work on their notes, I encourage them to be specific in what they are thanking the person for, how they feel about it, and how they will use the item. So, it looks something like: “Thank you for the new game. I am excited for us to play it together the next time you’re at my house.”
Writing thank you notes causes kids (and adults) to stop and process acts of kindness and how they make them feel. This can be an important way to cultivate a thankful heart. In fact, my friend Jenny has launched a gratitude movement called the Hundred Hearts Project, where you reach out to others in gratitude, which can then transform your heart in return. Powerful stuff! (You can read more about her project by clicking here.)
Make Gratitude Fun
Lessons don’t always have to be formal (or serious!). My final goal is to find more fun and creative ways to bring gratitude into our daily activities. Maybe we’ll have a gratitude jar and, at the end of the month, I will pick out ten slips of paper to read out loud. Then, whoever contributed the tenth slip of paper gets to choose where we go out for dessert. OR, maybe for Thanksgiving we can play Pin the Tail on the Turkey, but everyone writes down what they are thankful for on their feather before playing. The possibilities really are endless and gratitude pins ABOUND on Pinterest!
So those are the five ways that I am trying to help my kids become more thankful people. I feel that planting the seed of gratitude in the hearts of my children is one of my most important jobs at a parent, because I know first-hand the joy that comes from a grateful heart.
And it is truly life-altering.
So now it’s your turn…what are your tips for helping children recognize and express gratitude? Leave me a comment below!