In today’s materialistic world where kids have a disposable mentality – it is particularly important to encourage them to practice gratitude and appreciate what they have, especially in the run up to the festive season. The busyness and focus on buying gifts at this time of year, can leave children feeling a little overwhelmed, unfulfilled and entitled, losing sight of what is truly important.
I am sure many parents have been in that embarrassing situation when your child absolutely refuses to say thank you to granny for her gift. Or the child who nags you for months for a particular toy and within a few hours of receiving it, never looks at it again. How do you encourage children to say thank you and actually mean it?
Research clearly shows that gratitude plays an important role in a persons’ well-being and success. A study by Dr Robert A Emmons shows that cultivating gratitude can increase happiness levels by up to 25%. It boosts self-esteem, empathy and optimism and improves relationships.
1. Model gratitude
Make sure you remember to comment and thank your children and partner for all the lovely things you notice them doing and how they make you feel. e.g. “Thank you so much for making your bed this morning. It feels so much nicer to have a tidy house.” Or “I really appreciate that you kept your little sister busy whilst I was making dinner.”
Slowly but surely this habit will start to feel automatic and genuine rather than forced.
2. Get into the habit of sharing daily what you are grateful for
Find a time of day (e.g. dinner time or bed time) to share a few things that you are really grateful for or happy about. Every day I encourage my kids to share their ‘rose’ and ‘banana peel’. The rose being something they were happy about or proud of and the banana peel is if they have something amusing that happened. If daily is unrealistic, start with at least once a week and your kids will still benefit.
4. Gratitude jar
This is a lovely way to record all the positive events that happen. Write on a piece of paper all the moments you are grateful for as they happen and pop the paper in a jar. Encourage all members of your family to do the same. Agree a time, maybe once a month that you empty out and read through the contents of the jar. This helps your children look for the positive things in life. It is particularly helpful on those days when they are ‘bored’ at home or complaining so they can remember all the good moments.
5. Thank you book
Instead of the jar you could have a book where the family record all the things you are grateful for.
6. Give back
Find ways for your children to volunteer in the local community, doing something thoughtful for someone else. Helping others and being generous are a very important part of feeling grateful. Encourage them to set aside a small amount of their pocket money or Christmas/birthday money to give to those less fortunate and help them decide what cause it should go to. Encourage them to work out what their strengths are and how they could help. This enables them to develop a passion and sense of purpose and connection with others. Ask them to write a list of gifts they’d like to give to people that they love.
7. Thank you notes
Sadly the whole tradition of hand written thank you notes seems to be dying. However encourage your children to write in birthday or Christmas cards to friends and family, what specifically they appreciate about that individual. Maybe there is someone else who made a difference in their life this past year ago that they never properly thanked like a teacher, football coach or aunty. This is about thanking someone not for something of material value that they gave you but for what they have done for you. If they are too young they can dictate it to you. It’s best if they can deliver it in person and see the person’s reaction when they read it.
I still ask my children to handwrite write thank you notes and rather than just saying thank you extend it to say what they appreciate about the gift. It’s also a great way to practice writing skills for little ones and always more motivating when they are writing for a purpose. If your children are too young to write, they could say thank you on a video message or to take a photo of them using the gift.
8. Helping out at home
For children to fully appreciate all that parents do to ensure that the household runs smoothly, they need to be involved in helping. Of course you need to work out what is appropriate according to their age and stage of development. Encourage them to be as independent as possible and contribute to chores at home. If they can prepare a meal or put the washing on and then lay it all out to dry, they will understand the time and effort involved in doing these things and appreciate it more when it’s done for them. You are also teaching your children important life skills so that when they leave home, they are not totally incapable because everything has bene done for them!
9. Encourage them to earn what they take for granted
Children expect to be bought new trainers when theirs no longer fit or to be allowed to have play dates. These things should be earnt by doing their part; homework and contributing to household chores. Older children can earn pocket money or get a job to save up for something rather than just getting it. Also giving them your time and experiences builds relationships and is much more powerful than a gift. What children want most from parents is simply time and attention.
Gratitude is all about stepping back and appreciating what you already have, rather than thinking about what you still want. The relationship between gratitude and happiness is very strong. It is truly a mindset and life style.