Did you know that when children show gratitude, it correlates with happiness and life satisfaction for them according to research. This makes sense – consider how adults are encouraged to keep gratitude journals as a way to up our happiness. Gratitude is also linked to less stress and depression, and more optimism.
Researchers and authors Jeffrey Froh (Hofstra University) and Giacomo Bono (California State University) have developed concrete, scientifically-based ways to encourage gratitude in kids.
Role model gratitude and teach your kids to think gratefully
Express gratitude often–by speaking it, writing it, gifting it. And do so consistently, as a value of yours. My wife and I have elevated expression of gratitude to the level of a personal value in hopes of further imprinting our daughter. Sometimes we even see signs that it’s working.
You can help your child think gratefully by encouraging him/her to consider the benefits they get from others’ kindness and gestures, and what those acts cost the giver.
Be present and empathetic with your child
Spending time with your children is, of course, good. Spending time when you’re fully present, enjoying each moment, and ready to express empathy and understanding is priceless. It’s something I continually work on and is the single thing I’m most proud of improving about myself (although there’s still plenty of room to get better). Froh and Bono say empathy is “the most important emotion for developing gratitude.”
Experiencing independence breeds appreciation in the child for all the support he/she is already receiving. They’re thus more likely to express that appreciation outwardly. Note that autonomy includes curbing the child’s social-media use to lessen the likelihood they’ll experience diminished self-appreciation.
Nurture their strengths
Doing so builds confidence. Confidence builds self-appreciation, which makes it easier to see and appreciate things around you (as you’re not busy combating feelings of inadequacy). You can even encourage your children to directly use strengths (like writing, speaking well, being kind-hearted) to show gratitude.
Encourage them to accumulate growth, not gadgets
Materialistic goals, when met, rarely lead to genuine gratitude (unless, perhaps, the goal was met through a generous gift from someone else–in which case, the child should be encouraged to express thanks).
When you encourage a child to focus on developing deeper connections with people or the community and on pursuing experiences that pique their interest and help them achieve growth, it’s much more likely to foster gratitude. My wife and I encourage experiences over things and we’re convinced it has helped our daughter to appreciate in a more visceral way.
Give them a hand in lending helping hands
Encourage your child to look for opportunities to help others, again role modeling it yourself as a closely held value. This is one of the most direct routes possible towards encouraging gratitude.
Help them find what matters to them
When kids find something that’s important to them, something bigger than themselves, (like a social issue, cause, or form of service), they realize they’re a player in something more important. Gratitude comes from an appreciation of that larger picture and what they can do to affect it.
As parents, we can only do so much to imprint our children the way we want. Then, we turn them loose on the world. But one thing’s for sure. Engraining gratitude will be one thing they’ll always be thankful for.