There is now mounting evidence that the practice of gratitude not only makes children feel happier but it also increases their resilience, self-esteem, improves self-control and their mental health. So what exactly is gratitude and can we really teach it to our children?
In essence gratitude is the process by which we express our thankfulness and appreciation for all which we have in our lives. It involves being able to identify not only the big things which make our lives more enriching but also the small things which others might overlook. Gratitude goes beyond the simple please and thank you’s by encouraging children to actively reflect on their day to day lives focusing specifically on all which they can be thankful for. The good news is whilst some children are inherently more grateful than others, gratitude is something which can be taught. Here are seven easy steps you can take today to bring the practice of gratitude into your children’s lives:
1. Start a family tradition of daily gratitude. Each day when you eat together take it in turns to answer these three simple questions (1) What was the best thing which happened today, (2) What did you learn today, and (3) What are you most looking forward to tomorrow.
2. Start a gratitude journal. Give your child a notebook and encourage them to wrote down each day what they are grateful for. Encourage them to think about the small things just as much as the big. They can then refer back to this journal at times when life is more challenging. Even young children can practice this by drawing what they are grateful for rather than writing.
3. Give your children chores. By giving your children daily chores they get a sense of contributing to the whole family, and it teaches them the benefits of their efforts. Even young children can be asked to lay the table or tidy up the playroom.
4. Volunteer. This can be as simple as volunteering to make cakes for the school fete, to helping a neighbour with their garden. Volunteering teaches children their contributions are valued and creates a sense of self-worth, which also decreases their sense of entitlement.
5. Thank you notes. Encourage your children to write thank you notes not only for Birthday and Christmas presents but also for sleepovers and playdates. This teaches them to appreciate the effort and thought which go into organising these pleasurable events.
6. Give your children less. By giving your child more of what they need and less of what they want you teach them to appreciate what they have and reduce a sense of entitlement. Children often value time with us much more than all the material things which they tell us they ‘need’.
7. Promote the practice of giving. Encourage your children to regularly consider what they have which they don’t use any more but could benefit someone who has less. Purging their toy collection just before Christmas and their Birthday is an ideal time for them to identify what they could give away to children less fortunate than themselves. Encourage them to pack up their old toys and take them to a local charity with you.