Gratitude isn’t always easy to express, no matter who you are. But children especially have a difficult time recognizing the things they’re thankful for. Part of this is because kids are preprogrammed to believe their world is ending if they eat cereal out of the wrong color bowl or if there is a hole in their ice cream cone. The other part of this is that gratitude is a muscle children haven’t yet developed.
So, how to raise a grateful child? Thankfully (pun intended), there are several little ways that parents can help kids foster appreciation. And these little ways add up to something bigger.
To start, try the following:
1. Lead by example
As parents all know, our children learn from watching us. If you want your child to show gratitude, you must show it too. Sometimes, a small comment can make all the difference. For example, if the weather outside is frightful with snow falling down, consider saying something like, “It’s freezing outside. I’m so glad we have a warm house where we can stay indoors.”
2. Rah-rah-rah for responsibility
You have a responsibility to make your kids responsible. Not only does this ensure things like safety (e.g., not leaving toys on the stairs prevents accidents), but it also plays into social responsibility too. Encourage your child to do things like donate to charity or rake leaves in the yard of an elderly neighbor; this helps foster gratitude by showing them that not everyone is as fortunate or able-bodied as they are. You might also consider teaching them responsibility around things like the environment. Ask them to make sure they always recycle or turn off the faucet if they’re not using it. This reminds them that things like clean drinking water are a privilege.
3. Assign chores
Ah, assigning chores – the reason you had kids! Chores don’t only teach your child responsibility but they also teach them how much effort goes into keeping a house clean or keeping a yard trimmed. When kids understand this effort, they appreciate it more. Make sure kids are invested in the process if you want them to be grateful for that process.
4. Ax the ads
There’s no doubt about it – we live in a world where advertisements rule. Sometimes, there’s not a lot we can do about this, but limiting your child’s exposure to ads helps them appreciate what they already have by controlling their desire for what they don’t own. If that new toy from Hasbro is out of sight, it’ll be out of mind as well.
5. Make a special storage place
Having somewhere special to keep special things can amplify the importance of those things (little things such as trinkets, cards, or small stuffed animals). This could be a shoebox they decorate or a special place in the back of the closet. The key is to make sure the space is limited; your child doesn’t need to rent a storage unit. Whenever they ask for something new, you might consider asking them if they want it bad enough to take something out of their special place and make room.
6. Think big
As parents, it’s our job to help our kids understand that they are part of a larger picture. Often, this means helping children recognize the privileges they enjoy that others may not. Things like living in a neighborhood low on crime or going to school with air conditioning are not things that all children have. Help your child see this.
7. Save the children
There are several charities that work to help children in need (such as Save the Children). Urge your kiddo to contribute to these within reasons. They don’t need to donate all their bar mitzvah money but encourage them to donate a portion of their allowance or to have a bake sale to help raise funds.
8. Appreciate them
If you want your kids to be appreciative, then they need to feel appreciated. When they go out of their way to do something kind or generous, show your gratitude. And make sure you get detailed – that’s more effective than blanket thankfulness. For example, if your daughter plays with her little brother so you can fix dessert, make sure you convey your gratitude by telling her how happy you are that she put on a puppet show so you could make pudding.
9. Be blunt
Children don’t come out of the womb knowing how to appreciate things; this is a skill that’s cultivated. One way to do this is to speak with your child about the issue directly, focusing on how they feel when people show them gratitude. This relays to them the emotional importance of being appreciated while teaching them how their behavior impacts others.
10. Get creative
Saying “thanks” doesn’t need to involve writing boring “thank you” notes until carpal tunnel sets in; there are lots of ways to think outside the box. Encourage your child to express their gratitude anyway they want, even if that means drawing a picture, writing a poem, or, heck, performing an interpretive dance.
11. Make them earn it
Kids want you to give them the world and, as parents, it can be hard to say no. Children don’t understand the value of money and that interferes with their ability to appreciate the cost of things. Thus, it’s on you to step in. One way to do this is to encourage them to earn things, such as a new toy, rather than just buying them. Earning translates into higher levels of appreciation. This also delays instant gratification, something important for children whose lives are dictated by two-day shipping and front door food delivery. A few ways your child can earn what they want are by saving up their allowance, shoveling walks, mowing lawns, or babysitting (if they’re old enough).
12. Do activities
Giving experiences rather than tangible items helps your child foster gratitude. For example, going hiking in the mountains and then to play a round of mini-golf is something they’ll remember much more than getting a new stuffed animal to go along with the 668 they already have. This also helps remove the importance of material items.
13. Look for silver linings
Looking for the good in the bad can come across as invalidating, so it’s important that you recognize your child’s feelings and acknowledge their pain. But looking for a silver lining helps show them that not everything is doom and gloom. This not only teaches them gratitude but resilience too. For example, if you had planned to go to the zoo but it starts to rain, consider saying something like, “We can’t go to the zoo and that’s sad but now we get to go bowling instead.”
14. Jam with a jar
A gratitude jar is a common concept that many parents use. Ask your child to name something they’re grateful for then write it down and drop it in the jar. The more your child does this, the more they’ll want to do it. Set time aside to read what’s in the jar, which allows gratitude to truly hit home.
15. Make space at bedtime
Taking the time each night to ask your child to name something for which they’re grateful helps them end their day on an appreciative foot. This encourages them to regularly reflect through an eye of appreciation.
Life is tough, which is why it can be difficult to always find appreciation. But the above tips can help cultivate thankfulness in your child. Gratitude is like a muscle; the more they use it, the bigger it gets.