At Camilla’s 6-year birthday party she was showered with gifts from friends and family. Her parents were overwhelmed with gratitude for the generosity that was shown to their daughter. But when the family arrived home after the party, Camilla became upset, crossing her arms and pouting because “she didn’t get the gift she really wanted.” Instead of appreciating all the presents she did receive, all Camilla could focus on was the one she didn’t get.
Gratitude isn’t something that you’re necessarily born with. It’s something that’s taught and nurtured over time. It’s never too soon or too late in your child’s life to teach and promote gratitude as a family value. In this article, we provide ways to incorporate gratitude throughout your day.
Gratitude is more than just teaching your child to say “thank you.” It’s a deeper feeling of appreciation for someone or something that stays with your child throughout their lives. Gratitude carries with it positive emotions that have positive long-term effects on our mental health. One study from the University of California showed that cultivating gratitude can increase happiness levels in people by 25 percent!
Gratitude has other benefits for kids as well:
- Improved self-esteem
- Increased optimism
- A more positive attitude about school and family life
Daily gratitude exercises
As we rush through our busy day, we don’t always stop to appreciate the things we are grateful for, whether it’s your home, a morning cup of coffee, or your health. As with most things in the parenting realm, if you want your child to practice daily gratitude, it’s best to lead by example. Here are some ways to get you and your kids thinking about gratitude.
Gratitude tree craft:
A wonderful way to get preschoolers thinking about what they are grateful for is to make a Gratitude Tree. On a large piece of paper draw a tree trunk, then, using colored paper, cut out a bunch of leaf shapes. Ask your child to think of things they are grateful for and write it down on each leaf. Come up with your own gratitude leaves and share them with your child: “I am grateful for the sun because it allows plants to grow.” Then, glue all the leaves above your tree trunk to create a “family gratitude tree.”
Play the “Best Thing Game”:
To play this game, simply fill in the blanks in the following sentence with a person, place or thing: “The best thing about BLANK is BLANK.” For example, “The best thing about walking to school is that I get to spend extra time with you in the mornings.” Another example is: “The best thing about our family is that we have lots of fun when we play games together.” This is a great game to play when you’re in the car or waiting in a check out line.
End your day on a positive note:
Make a routine of ending your day with a conversation on “what are you thankful for today?” Before bedtime, snuggle up with your kiddo to reflect on the day. You could say, “I am thankful it rained today because we had fun splashing in puddles together,” or “I am thankful for you because you bring me so much joy when we play together.” Focus on specifics; kids are literal thinkers and saying specifically what you mean helps them understand the larger concept. You’ll be amazed at some of the things they mention.
Are some kids more “grateful” than others?
Camilla’s parents might be concerned that their daughter is “spoiled” or “ungrateful” because of how she responded on her birthday. But the truth is that all kids are unique, and many factors go into how a child responds in certain situations: their basic temperament, and circumstances including hunger, tiredness, over-stimulation, stress at home or in school, growth spurts, etc.
As a parent, you can use these moments as “learning opportunities” to promote gratitude. When your child is calm, have a discussion about what it means to be thankful and appreciative of what you have or have been given. These conversations, combined with daily gratitude exercises, will have a lasting impact not only for your child, but the whole family.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com). Parenting Now is passionate about happy, healthy families.