Teaching your child to say ‘thank you’ could mark the beginning of a lifelong sense of gratitude. Research has shown that people who have gratitude increase their happiness levels by as much as twenty-five percent. However, teaching gratitude to children can be tricky. When they are under the age of 7, they have great difficulty in understanding others’ emotion. Let’s look at some ways of cultivating gratitude and appreciation in children.
Why is It Necessary to Teach Gratitude to Children?
By developing a sense of gratitude, children are opened up into the world of others. They discover that the world is more than just what they feel and they want, at a given time. Thankful children naturally become polite and kind towards others. By teaching children appreciation, they also learn to respect one another, share toys, and give out hugs!
Children who have gratitude have shown to become optimistic and less prone to depression when they enter adulthood. According to Mary Jane Ryan, author of ‘Attitudes of Gratitude’, no child is born grateful, but it is something that needs to be inculcated by the parent.
One of the key advantages of explaining gratitude to your child is that it gives him perspective. Once you can make your child aware of the benefits and privileges that he enjoys, which a large number of children in the world do not benefit from, it can make him appreciate his blessings more. Your child, if not reminded constantly, could get used to not caring about where his toys come from. Once he understands that the toy did not materialize out of thin air and that someone was responsible for creating it, this creates newfound respect within your child.
Gratitude also helps foster more genuine relationships. This is because of the perspective that it generates. Next time your child demands that he wants something immediately, remind him gently about what he already has, and to understand whether he really has the need for the new object he desires. Once he learns to acknowledge that, he would slowly start gaining the ability to reflect on his demand before verbalizing it as a command.
When Do Kids Start Learning the Meaning of Appreciation?
Children and toddlers are, by nature, self-centred. This is more of a biological necessity for sustenance, but feelings of gratitude can be instilled in children at a very young age. Around the age of 1 to 2 years, they come to realize that they are separate human beings from their parents, and that mummy and daddy do things to make them happy. Your child might not be able to articulate gratitude, but he can certainly begin to comprehend it.
By the age of 2 to 3 years, they can begin talking about things that they are thankful for or at least express it using actions. By the age of four, most children develop the ability to be grateful for not just material objects, but also for acts and gestures of kindness, love and affection.
Ways to Teach Gratitude to Children
Below are twelve ways to teach children to be thankful and count their blessings.
1. Role Model
The best way to teach a philosophy of life, such as gratitude, is by example and not by lecture. Children learn best by emulating their parents, and what better way could there be than to lead by example! A simple way to start would be to say “thank you” and “please” to your spouse and child, as often as possible. Bring in the topic of gratitude as often as possible. While going out for a walk on a clear day, you could say “how lucky we are to be strolling out on such a bright and sunny day!” This also teaches to be grateful for the simplest and most mundane of things, which often tend to be ignored.
2. Encourage Children to Help Out
By encouraging your child to help out with household chores, such as washing the dishes or watering the plants, you generate an environment for them to learn gratitude. By physically doing things, your child realizes that it takes effort and that he should not take things for granted. On the other hand, the more you do for your child without verbalizing the effort it takes, the more chances for your child to take it for granted.
3. Interact with Your Kids
Asking your child to name a thing to be grateful for (a new thing a day) is a good way on how to make your child feel grateful. Be sure to set time aside for face-to-face interaction with your child. Many families find dinner time quite suitable for this.
4. Encourage Donating to the Needy
Taking stock of unused items such as books, toys and clothes and donating to those in need is a great example of promoting generosity in children. Taking your child to visit those in less privileged conditions gives them a real-life need to become gracious.
5. Give Concrete Examples
Giving actual examples of incidences that promote generosity must be done so that children get to learn from those real-life instances. One example of how to teach kids appreciation could be sharing good news, such as – “We got new computers at our workplace today! How lucky we were to get our old ones replaced!”.
6. Encourage Reading Books That Promote Gratitude
Books such as ‘The Giving Tree’ and ‘Have You Filled a Bucket Today?’ have strong moral foundations and provide excellent reading material.
7. Insist on ‘Thank You’ Notes
Thank you notes could even mean a little piece of paper with a flower on it. Children love to express emotion in the form of little letters and drawings. Encourage your child to make a ‘thank you’ note whenever there is an instance that needs to be thanked for. For example, he could write to someone who gifted him a lovely toy on his birthday.
8. Be Assertive
Most children keep track of the latest things in the market and keep pestering their parents for the same. They may ask for toys, video games or chocolates. Being a parent, you tend to fulfil all the desires of your child. Some of us may buy whatever they wish to put an end to their tantrums. This attitude will sabotage the growth of thankfulness in your child. Parents must realise that saying ‘no’ too many times will make saying ‘yes’ sound much sweeter. This policy will help you to raise children with an attitude of gratitude.
9. Be Patient
You must understand that your child will not imbibe this habit all of a sudden. It may take him days, weeks, months or years – and hearing a ‘no’ while asking for he wants is sure to induce tears! Parents should stay calm and help the children to cultivate the habit of appreciation and gratitude.
10. Thank Those Who Serve You
Children need to say thank you to those who serve them. For instance, most of us tend to take the work performed by our domestic help for granted. Our children also follow in our footsteps. As a parent, we must instil good values in our children. A bus conductor, sweeper in the school, driver or a domestic help at home must be thanked for the services rendered by them. Children must be trained to give due respect to such people.
11. Maintain a Journal
Ask your child to keep a note of the things he is grateful for on a daily basis. At the end of the week, you can make him read out loud the same. This will encourage him to think about each and every aspect of his life and count his blessings.
12. Birthdays – Celebrate Responsibly!
Usually, birthdays are seen as a day in which the child tends to go for an all-out, I-need-everything mode. While celebrating his birthday would be a joyful thing to do, make him also understand how lucky he is to have people who love him and celebrate him, and shower their blessings upon him. Teach him to send thank you notes to the guests who came to his birthday party and presented him with gifts too.
13. Expose Kids to the Consequences of Their Action
Exposing children to the consequences of their action is a simple but powerful way of helping the children learn about gratitude. Care should be taken to not bail them out or bribe them out of any situation.
As it has been proven that raising children with an attitude of gratitude can create lifelong happiness for your children, it is important to begin these practices right from an early age.
Also Read: Ways to Teach Good Manners to Kids