Instilling an enduring sense of gratitude is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children. A team of researchers from the Youth Gratitude Project at UC Berkeley found that kids and adolescents, when compared to less grateful peers, are happier, more hopeful, have higher GPAs, engage better with their families, and exhibit less depression, envy, and materialism. How do we facilitate gratitude in our kids?
Say Thank You. Simple enough, right? Make a point to thank kids for picking up their toys when you ask them, doing small favors, and for any kind gesture—even when it is expected of them. Model this behavior and ask the same from the kids. Make sure they express gratitude when you offer them food, help with their homework, and help them clean their rooms. Even though it may be your actual job to cook, clean, and help with homework—make sure you receive a thank you!
Reflect. A wonderful practice to incorporate into your kids’ lives is to make time, usually at the end of the day, to reflect. A great way to do this is by going around the table at dinner and giving everyone time to share the highlight of their day, their biggest challenge during the day, and two things for which they are grateful. There are no rules here—everyone is allowed to be grateful for whatever they like, no matter how big or small! This gratitude practice may even improve your life as well as your kiddos’!
Focus On Strengths. Hopefully you have allowed your kid or kids autonomy to find activities and hobbies they enjoy and eventually learn to master. As the childcare provider, it is your job to pay special attention to your kids’ strengths. Knowing the ways in which your children best play, learn, self-soothe, and create helps you to promote autonomy. Capitalizing on strengths also opens the way for children to be more cooperative, self-sufficient, and establishes a sense of self-efficacy.
Lastly—remember that gratitude is contagious. Practice gratitude with your kids, but make sure to carry this practice to the other areas of your life. At the end of a swelteringly hot day with seemingly endless responsibilities—take into account just how lovely that shower feels, how comfortable your pajamas are, and how brilliant the writers of The Office are as you turn on Netflix and watch season 4 for the millionth time (or whatever you binge-watching preferences are). Pay attention to how gratitude for the little things make big worries seem a bit smaller.