As we get our homes (and menus) ready for Thanksgiving, many of us are also interested in finding ways to teach our children about gratitude and the value of community service. I’m a big proponent of teaching gratitude on a daily basis with children and not limiting it to a once-a-year experience at the Thanksgiving dinner table. As someone who has practiced living a life guided by gratitude for well over a decade, I can attest to the multitude of positive benefits. I recently read a study that found that gratitude was one of the biggest predictors of life satisfaction, no matter the demographic.
Here’s 5 simple tips for teaching children gratitude:
1. Walk the talk! If you hope to teach your children about gratitude, you have to say thanks yourself. Kids learn by what they see, hear and experience. Kids mirror our behavior and our words so model the behavior you wish you see. If you want to make sure your children say “please” and “thank you” be mindful to use those same words yourself in your daily life. Tell your husband/wife/partner “thank you” for clearing the table after dinner, for taking out the trash, for helping your child with homework. When you are out of the house, be sure to say “please” and “thank you” to store cashiers, to your child’s teacher, etc. Our children are listening to us whether we consciously realize it or not.
2. Volunteer! Consider taking your child to a soup kitchen this Thanksgiving or to another kid-friendly community service project in your community. Many temples and churches have wonderful partnerships with non-profits that can definitely use your help this holiday season (and all year long). Ask your child’s school if there is a way you can help with any existing volunteer projects such as a canned food drive.
3. Teach your child the difference between “want” and “need.” Many of us are fortunate to be able to provide our children a wonderful home life filled with many comforts and extras like toys, after-school activities, etc. Teach your child the definition of “want” and “need” so that the next time your child asks for a toy at the grocery store or pharmacy simply because it’s in eye sight, you are more easily able to say “no.” Kids learn to appreciate the toys they have when there are fewer of them in the house.
4. Praise your kids! When I was an elementary school teacher, I read many books on classroom management and the one that resonated with me the most suggested a positive, yet assertive, approach to discipline. I actively narrate the good behavior and choices I see around our house. I say things like, “I like the way you helped your sister get dressed this morning” and “I appreciate the way you checked in with your sister after she fell down and hurt herself.” Our daughters respond really well to positive praise and I think this method will work with kids of all ages.
5. Have your kids start a gratitude journal. Preschoolers can even participate in this daily ritual by drawing a quick picture of the things/reasons/people they are grateful for. Elementary school kids on up really enjoy having their own special gratitude journal. Our daughters look forward to writing in their journals (our preschooler mostly draws pictures and sometimes will write a word or two with help from me). I have kept a gratitude journal for well over a decade and writing my list of 5 things I have to be grateful for is one of the highlights of my day! Jeffrey Froh, PsyD, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Hofstra University in New York conducted a very cool research study on gratitude with kids. He asked one group of middle school students to list up to five things they were grateful for every day for two weeks, while a second group recorded daily hassles and a third only completed a survey. “The gratitude group experienced a jump in optimism and overall well-being,” according to Professor Froh. Gratitude really is beneficial for all of us–young and old!