The holiday season is coming, when stores and manufacturers will be bombarding our families with all the things they don’t have, but could get if they spend, spend, spend.
How can we help our children learn to be thankful for what they have?
This lesson goes much deeper than reminding them to say “Thank you.” How do we get them to truly “feel” thankful and appreciate what they have?
Thankfulness is a Sign of an Emotionally Healthy Child
Part of the difficulty in teaching children the concept of thankfulness is that it is an abstract. Thankfulness isn’t something kids can see, touch, or hear. It is something they actually have to think about and do in their minds.
Meri Wallace, LCSW and author of "How to Raise a Happy, Cooperative Child," says that an attitude of gratitude not only builds kids’ characters, but also helps kids develop empathy for others who may not have as much as they do. 2
UC Berkley conducted research and found that adolescents ages 11-13 who were grateful were “happier, more optimistic, have better social support, and are more satisfied with their school, family, community, friends, and themselves, and give more social support to others.”(3)
As for teenagers ages 14-19, those who have an attitude of gratitude are more satisfied with their lives. They use their “strengths to better their community, are more engaged in their schoolwork and hobbies, have higher grades, and are less envious, depressed, and materialistic.” (3)
Isn’t this a list of characteristics we’d like to see in our children?
How to Teach Your Child to be Thankful
1) Demonstrate thankfulness.
“Children learn most from the way family members treat each other. If the family routinely shows gratitude, so will your child.” (2)
2) Share what you have.
“Have your family take part in a food drive or prepare some holiday dishes and bring them to a homeless shelter.” (2)
These are examples of “intrinsic goals.” These are goals that aren’t focused on working towards money or possession or status, but on participating positively in our communities and help others grow.
3) At end of day ask your child what made her feel happy throughout the day.
This helps to finish up the day on a positive note.
4) Use a democratic or authoritative parenting style that provides firm guidance.
At the same time, be flexible enough to accommodate and really listen to your child’s individual needs, strengths and talents. When children take ownership of their skills and talents and are responsible for developing them, “children gain things to appreciate in life and ... attract support from others, thus inviting gratitude into their daily life." (3)
5) Help kids discover their passions.
By doing this we can help our children find a “path to purpose that resonates with them – with their values, interests, and dreams…. The deepest sense of gratitude in life comes from connecting to a bigger picture, to an issue that matters to others and doing things that contribute to society down the road.” (3)
Remember, that teaching your children values happens over time and, mostly, from them observing you. Their behavior won’t change miraculously overnight or by you just mentioning it once.
“Gradually, as his cognitive and emotional abilities develop, he will internalize your values and behave in a way that will make you proud.” (2)
1) Concrete Thinking. GoodTherapy.org. Web. Accessed: Nov 24, 2014.
2) Teaching Kids to be Grateful. Wallace, Meri. Psychology Today. Web. Accessed: Nov 24, 2014.
3) Seven Way to Foster Gratitude in Kids. Froh, Jeffrey and Giacomo Bono. Greater Good. Web. Accessed: Nov 24, 2014.
Reviewed November 26, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith