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Teaching Gratitude

It’s that time of year when we gather together to reflect on the past year and be thankful for all the good that it has brought us. As an adult, that is easy enough to understand. For a child, it could just be a time to eat and play. While you don’t want to take away that innocent aspect, it is still a good idea to practice gratitude. Children who experience gratitude are generally happier with life and have a better time in school thanks to increased optimism. It also helps with empathy and self-esteem. Finally, it improves relationships with family, friends, and teachers. Gratitude is something that we have to learn though, so here are a few tips on how to show your child gratefulness.

When do children start to learn gratitude?

Instilling gratitude is a process and one that can start from a very young age. Toddlers as young as 15 months old can start being appreciative. They know that they need help from grown-ups for things. They may not express this gratitude for things at the time of course though, and that is normal. As they get older, kids can often identify things they are thankful for. This may be for toys and people, but around age 4 or 5, children start to learn to be thankful for things like love and acts of kindness shown to them.

How to teach gratitude

The first thing parents should keep in mind that children do as children see, so model how to be grateful. This is as simple as saying “Thank you” to going out of your way to show appreciation for something. If your child helps you with a chore, make a big deal out of it, letting them know how much it helped you out. They will see your appreciation.

You don’t need to wait until Thanksgiving to talk about things we are grateful for. It can be good practice to talk each night about something you are grateful for and encourage the child to pick something from their day they are thankful for too. This might be a toy or snack they had throughout the day, but this can grow into other meaningful things later on, especially if you model it. There is nothing wrong with being thankful for material things though, as they will soon realize that not everyone gets the same.

If your child wants something, have them help work towards it. With older kids, this may be in the form of an allowance, and by saving up they can get something they really want. It shows them that hard work goes into getting things, and they will be more appreciative. For younger kids, it can be something as simple as preparing for a snack. If your child asks for one, ask them to help by getting the things they need ready, like a bowl or cup. They are only small things, but they learn what goes into preparing a snack for them.

For some, it may be hard to resist getting your child that thing they have been begging for again and again. Soon they get tired of it and want something else shiny and new, so you get that too. As much as we want to keep our children happy, it doesn’t have to be through material things. If you keep giving what they want, they will never know to be grateful for what they have. This goes for getting something each time they do something good or help out. They won’t be helping out because it’s the nice thing to do but instead, are doing it for their own benefit. Studies have shown that kids who feel entitled have a harder time in school and find it more difficult to form friendships.

The saying “It is better to give than receive” rings true. To show this, have your child help pick presents for people or donations to a charity. If they can’t be around when the person opens the gift, let them know how much they loved the gift. This adds a sense of pride, making them happy that something they did made someone else’s day, and they don’t need to expect anything back for it.

Being grateful is a wonderful thing that is a lifelong skill. There is no way to teach it, but something we must practice with our children every day from a very young age all the way through the teen years, helping our children have a more positive attitude and happier life.

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