With Thanksgiving right around the corner, many of us are counting our blessings and pausing to appreciate what’s really important in life.
But are we raising our kids to be thankful, as well?
Studies have shown that grateful kids are not only happier kids, but are also more likely to have higher grades, more friends and more life satisfaction than their more materialistic counterparts.
They’re also less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, have behavior problems at school or suffer from depression.
So it’s no wonder parents are wondering how to help their children foster gratitude.
According to the experts, encouraging “please” and “thank you” is a great place to start. (You can even role play saying thank you and using manners with stuffed animals!)
But true gratitude – and the empathy and compassion that comes with it – is a long-term process and requires real effort on the part of parents.
Tip #1: Buy Less Stuff.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Although it’s difficult to say “no” in a culture that celebrates consumerism and all things new and shiny, that’s exactly what’s necessary. It’s hard to teach thankfulness to kids if they get everything they ask for.
So if you’re serious about raising grateful kids you’ll have to say “no” even when it seems easier – and maybe more fun – to say “yes”.
One clever psychologist suggests having “look days” and “buy days.”
Before you head out for the day’s activities, let your kids know that it’s just a “look day.” Maybe you’ll see trees at the park, or toys in the store or souvenirs at the museum, but today you’re just looking and enjoying.
Other days can be “buy days,” when you purchase things. Of course, more days should be “look days” than “buy days.”
Here’s a helpful tip: Think of saying “no” to new materials things as saying “yes” to appreciating what you already have.
Tip #2: Focus on Togetherness During the Holidays
Has anyone else left the holidays feeling overwhelmed by all the material items?
To avoid an unreasonable amount of gifts and materials things at holiday time, consider Secret Santa exchanges where everyone receives one or two special items.
You can also opt to gift an experience rather than a toy.
If you can’t avoid the deluge of gifts, be sure to keep the focus on celebrating and spending time with friends and family rather than the gifts.
After the holidays, help your child write thank-you notes for each gift they receive. Young children might start out just drawing a picture and scribbling their name. As they get older, it’s nice to explain why the like the gift and what they’ll do with it.
Tip #3: Start a Gratitude Ritual
If you don’t already, it might be nice to incorporate some kind of thankfulness ritual into everyday life.
At dinnertime, for example, you might start out the meal with everyone mentioning one thing they’re grateful for from that day. Some families say grace or a prayer before their meal to give thanks for the food they’re about to eat.
Bedtime is another great time for kids to reflect on what they’re thankful for.
Whatever it is, dedicating one time per day to building gratitude goes a long way to raising a grateful child who is aware of their blessings.
Tip #4: Make them work for it
To fully appreciate the work that gets done around the house, kids need to participate regularly and consistently in the household chores. They’re more likely to be truly grateful for the things that are done for them if they’ve experienced the kind of work that goes into it.
In the same way, to full appreciate their food and the preparation that goes into it, kids can actually help in the preparation. Consider buying an inexpensive apron and dull knife to enable them to help out in the kitchen and feel proud of their accomplishments when the meal is served.
Tip #5: Give back the community
Another great way to foster empathy and compassion in your children is to involve them in service projects in the community.
No matter your child’s age, there are projects big and small that can help them connect to others in a meaningful way and be more grateful for the things they have.
For some local ideas, head over to Kids Impact Community.
Tip #6: Read books about gratitude and generosity
There’s no question that children learn through the stories they read, and the books that are read to them. Seek out children’s books that emphasize being generous and displaying gratefulness. You can start here and here.
Tip #7: Do as you say
As with anything else, we parents have to be living examples of what it means to be grateful. Thank your child when they deserve it. Talk about what you’re grateful for. Tell your children you are grateful for them. Model treating everyone with respect. Seek to live your life in a way that prioritizes people over things.
And Happy Thanksgiving, Milwaukee With Kids readers! We’re thankful for your continued support.