Trying to raise a grateful child during the age of instant gratification can be challenging. But as difficult as it may appear, it’s possible to help your children nurture their sense of gratitude. This article explores why gratitude matters and gives you simple activities, games, and exercises that can help your child develop an attitude of gratitude every day.
Why Is Gratitude Important?
In short, gratitude can make you happier. “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships,” according to Harvard Medical School.
Gratitude can also affect a person’s health. In a study, psychologists asked participants to write a few sentences a week. One group wrote about what they were grateful for that week. A second group was told to write about daily irritations. A third group was asked to write a few sentences without any positive or negative emphasis.
After 10 weeks, those who focused on gratitude were more optimistic, felt better about their lives, and even exercised more and had fewer doctor’s visits than those who focused on what irritated them.
To practice gratitude for others, children (and adults) have to take the perspective of someone else and understand how they might be feeling. These are complex social-emotional skills—ones that children tend to develop around ages 3 to 5, making this the perfect age to introduce gratitude into their lives.
Ways to Help Children Learn Gratitude
There are several ways you can help your children learn to feel and express gratitude. One everyday method is simply by modeling gratitude in your own life. Your children watch and learn from your own actions. Here are some other ways can help your child see how you express gratitude (from PBS for Parents):
- At bedtime tell your child what you are thankful for. Ask your child to share what they are thankful for. Try to think of new things each night. Expressing gratitude helps your child learn to look for the good.
- Children imitate adult behavior, so make an effort to say “thank you” in your daily interactions. You can also practice saying “please” and “thank you” with your child by playing with a favorite toy or stuffed animal.
- Involve your children in writing thank you notes.Take some time to write a thank you note to someone you know, and let your children add a picture of their own. As your children get older, encourage them to write their own thank you cards or make gifts for people in their lives.
More Gratitude Exercises for Children
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Many adults have found that keeping a gratitude journal helps them be happier by carving out daily or weekly just time to focus on what they are thankful for.
This can be true for children, also. Keeping a gratitude journal can help children notice and seek out positive things around them.
Younger children can draw in a journal, or they may express themselves as children do in the early stages of development—through scribble writing or by writing letters that match some of the sounds in the words. They may also use invented, approximate spellings. In a journal, any expression is great. Focus on the ideas, not on the accuracy of the writing.
Some simple, regular routines can help build a sense of gratitude. At mealtime, each family member can say what they’re grateful for that day. Or in the morning, children can start the day stating what they’re grateful for. This can help children begin on the right foot and set the mood for the rest of the day.
Make a Gratitude Tree
A gratitude tree is a fun craft perfect for preschoolers. Your children can cut out ‘leaves’ from construction paper, and write what they’re grateful for on each leaf. It can be anything, from family or pets to something they like to do.
Write Gratitude Poems
Reading or writing poems about gratitude is a fun family activity that can encourage a child’s creative spirit. Here are some poems about Thanksgiving that are perfect for children.
Make a Gratitude Box or Jar
This is a simple craft that helps children gather tangible evidence of how much they have to be grateful for. Any box or jar will do, but you can craft special designs if you want.
Each day, help your child write on a slip of paper what they’re grateful for and put it in the box (or jar). At the end of the month, or on a special day, your child can take out the paper and read each piece.