How To Raise Grateful KidsNov 23, 2022
Given that we’re in the season of gratitude, we tend to talk and think more about what we are grateful for — and given that gratitude is associated with increased levels of happiness it’s no wonder that this can be more of a “feel-good” time of year. This time of year also has many parents asking how they can raise more grateful kids, especially as the holiday marketing season ramps up.
So how do we weave gratitude into our daily lives and how do we raise more grateful kids? I invite you to consider that gratitude is more than just a feeling and more than just saying thank you. Gratitude is a practice, and researchers* found that when parents increased their own gratitude practice, their children showed increased displays of gratitude as well.
Here are three things that you can do to help your kids (and you!) develop a gratitude practice.
1 - Look for things to be grateful for every day.
What in your life might you be taking for granted that you are really grateful for?
One of my favorites is indoor plumbing and sewer systems. I am super grateful that someone invented these conveniences! This question can inspire some really fun conversations with your kids too by talking about what life might be like without them.
Did you experience any acts of kindness from someone else today?
We can get so caught up in everything that we’re doing that we either don’t notice or don’t take a moment to truly be grateful when someone else does something that lifts us up. It could be someone stopping to let us get ahead of them in traffic with a friendly wave, or a big smile and upbeat conversation from the cashier as you were checking out. Your child could have had someone slide over to give them a seat on the bus, or another student hold a door for them when they had their hands full.
2 - Pay attention to the feelings.
What emotions are you feeling as you are thinking about what you are grateful for?
Our brains are designed to justify our feelings. This can be a problem when we are frustrated because our brain will actively search for more reasons why we should be frustrated. But this is a great feature when we are actively looking for reasons to be grateful. When we pay attention to the feelings that we experience when we are grateful, our brains will look for more reasons to justify why we are feeling good. The key is to really notice and feel them — versus glossing over them which can happen when we say an automatic “thank you”.
How did you feel when someone did something nice for you?
How do you think it made THEM feel to do something nice for you?
These questions help your kids pay attention to the feelings that they are experiencing, and it helps them develop empathy. They also help your kids realize the impact of their actions, especially when they are kind and helpful!
As for you, how often does someone offer to help you — and you decline the help? How often do you tell others that you’ve got it covered when you really could have used a hand? Many of us have a hard time accepting help, even when we can really use it. When you stop to think about how good it feels to be able to help others, I invite you to consider that you are taking away the opportunity for them to feel good when you decline their help. Consider that your kids are watching you, so you’re teaching them the same.
3 - Express appreciation for that which you are grateful for.
How can I express true appreciation when I’m grateful?
We can miss true moments of gratitude, as well as the opportunity to return the good feeling when we respond with an auto “thank you”. Imagine if you took just a minute to say thank you for helping to brighten my day to the cashier that lifted you up, or even I’m so appreciative that you stopped to hold the door open and waited for me. I guarantee that you would lift that person up in return.
For your kids, it might be having them make a card or even a video expressing their gratitude for a gift. Ask them how they think the person might feel when they receive it. It seems less of a chore when you are thinking about how good the other person will feel getting that “gift” of appreciation.
For most people, developing a gratitude practice has to be intentional. Our brains are not naturally designed to look for things to be grateful for. Instead, they are designed to look for the negative and potential danger in our lives as that is what kept our ancestors alive. We have to intentionally train and program our brains to look for the good and what we are grateful for. The good news is that when you make a practice of looking for things to be grateful for — and you model this for your kids — you help make gratitude a natural practice for them as well.
Thank you so much for reading my blogs. I’m on a mission to build a new emotionally healthy and resilient generation from the ground up. I hope these tips and strategies are helping you parent differently and that they are having a ripple effect on your kids and families. Happy Thanksgiving!
* Hussong, A.M., Langley, H.A., Rothenberg, W.A., Coffman, J.L., Halberstadt, A.G., Costanzo, P.R., & Mokrova, I. (2018). Raising grateful children one day at a time. Applied Developmental Science.
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