For some people, gratefulness is a moment of reflection during the holiday season. For others, it is making a daily effort to find the positive and acknowledge it. It is a mindset, but also so much more. It’s an attitude, living a lifestyle in which you focus on what you do have, rather than what you don’t. But why would you want to be grateful every day and why encourage it in our child?
Most of us are privileged in one way or another – be it in location, income, status, education, or some other lifestyle dynamic. There are others, around the world and in our own backyards, who have far less than. Recognizing what we do have and becoming more appreciative of it often opens us up to giving more back, and that can have a positive effect on our communities.
Results from a University of California, Davis, study indicate that gratefulness can also boost happiness levels by as much as 25 percent. In a world where some 7 percent of adults experience a depressive episode each year and 20 percent of teens experience depression, a boost in happiness, sparked by a little intentional gratefulness, would be a good thing.
But how do you get a child or teenager to focus on gratefulness? You can’t just tell them to be grateful, and leading by example isn’t always enough. Consider trying one of these seven methods, or get creative and come up with one of your own!
1. Practice Gratefulness and Talk About It Daily
Parents who practice gratefulness themselves are far more likely to raise a child who is also grateful – but don’t just exercise gratefulness. Talk about it, too! No matter how young or old your child is, no matter how often or how little you see them, you can find ways to add appreciation to your conversations. If they draw you a picture, tell them how grateful you are that they took the time to think about you. Appreciate the colors of the sunset with them, out loud. Find things that are beautiful, or that make you happy or your life better and talk about it.
2. Encourage Giving to Those in Need
If there’s one thing this world never seems to have a shortage of, it’s need. Teach your children to be a part of the solution (and encourage them to be more grateful for what they already have) by encouraging giving to those in need. Donate clothing and toys to a domestic violence shelter. Visit a soup kitchen or a nursing home. Send a care package to a soldier overseas. Lend a hand to a sick, elderly, or disabled neighbor.
3. Have Your Children Help with Housework
With five kids, it is impossible for me to keep my house clean on my own. (Well, I can’t keep it clean anyway . . . but it’s far cleaner than it could be.) My kids know that communal areas are everyone’s responsibility. You live here; you eat here; you help clean. Most of that was accomplished by encouraging them to clean up after themselves at a very young age. We then moved to simple chores, such as feeding the dog or setting the table. We gradually increase the difficulty of chores to match their age and development stage.
4. Provide an Allowance
Allowances can be a touchy subject with parents, but I’ve always felt that children should have them. It teaches them about money, helps them develop budgeting skills at a young age, and it can promote gratefulness. Just keep in mind that allowances are meant to be spent on the things that your child would normally beg you for when you’re at the store or when they go out with their friends. Once the money is gone, it’s gone. If they don’t have enough, then they’ll just have to save. Whatever you do, don’t cave and buy the item for them; otherwise, you risk eliminating the lesson of gratefulness that can be gleaned from receiving an allowance.
5. Have Your Children Say “Thanks” with a Note
Writing a thank you note encourages you to reflect on the generosity of others, and it lets the other person know that you appreciate their gift. Thank you notes don’t have to be just for gifts though; you can also encourage your children to write simple thank you letters to their teachers at the end of the year or give a thank you note to a kid in class that was thoughtful or kind. After all, everyone likes to feel appreciated.
6. Find the Silver Lining in Difficult Situations
Even when we’ve lost everything, there are things to be grateful for – the real trick, sadly, is learning how to remember that. Of course, it is normal to struggle with gratefulness when life gets hard or when tragedy strikes, but it’s also in these moments that our gratefulness can be the most valuable. It can help us make it through another difficult day, and it can give us hope for better days. Gratefulness can also make us more resilient during the difficult times, which makes it quite a valuable lesson. To encourage such gratefulness in your child, strive to find the silver lining – whatever the situation – and verbalize it.
7. Play More, Buy Less
In today’s throw-away society, where everyone “has” to have the newest smartphone or video game console, it is important to teach children that things are just . . . well, things. While we may enjoy them for a while, they eventually become useless clutter. They cannot bring us true happiness. That only comes from the sorts of things you can’t buy – love, adventure, time, laughter. So teach your children what’s truly valuable in life; play more and buy less.
8. Be Patient and Consistent
Gratefulness is typically a learned behavior, and it takes time to develop, so try to be patient as your child is learning and practicing their gratitude skills. Consider their age and developmental stage, previous history with gratitude (or its enemy, entitlement), and influential social factors when deciding whether it may be time to amp up your efforts or seek outside help. Most of all, be consistent; encourage gratefulness, not just around the holidays, but all year ’round.