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Cultivating Gratitude In Our Kids

Updated: Feb 3

Grateful Kids running

In the whirlwind of contemporary life, instilling gratitude in our children is a noble pursuit. As parents, we aspire to raise kids who appreciate the world around them and comprehend the value of what they possess. This guide unfolds actionable tips for fostering gratitude in your children, emphasizing daily practices and leading by example. As parents, we often say, “I want my children to be happy.” Practicing gratitude is one of the cornerstones of happiness.

Why Gratitude Matters:

Gratitude is a powerful force that transcends mere politeness; it has profound implications for our mental and emotional well-being. Studies consistently show that individuals who cultivate gratitude experience a myriad of benefits. For example, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami report higher levels of happiness, reduced stress, and improved mental health. This positive mindset extends beyond personal well-being, influencing how individuals interact with others and navigate the challenges of life.

When we teach our children to be grateful, we are providing them with a skill set that goes beyond mere good manners. Gratitude acts as a buffer against the trials and tribulations of life, offering a perspective that focuses on the positive aspects of any situation. By instilling gratitude in our children, we equip them with a robust tool for resilience and emotional intelligence.

Moreover, fostering a sense of gratitude in childhood lays the foundation for positive relationships and a more compassionate society. Grateful individuals are more likely to engage in prosocial behaviors, such as empathy, kindness, and a willingness to help others. By nurturing gratitude in our kids, we contribute to the creation of a generation that values not only their own well-being but also the well-being of others.

The impact of gratitude goes beyond individual benefits. Grateful children are more likely to form strong social bonds, cultivate empathy, and develop a sense of responsibility toward their community. As they grow into adulthood, these individuals become the architects of a society characterized by kindness, cooperation, and a shared sense of appreciation.

In essence, gratitude matters because it shapes the way we perceive the world, interact with others, and navigate the challenges that life inevitably presents. By instilling gratitude in our children, we empower them to lead fulfilling lives and contribute positively to the world around them. It is a gift that keeps on giving, fostering a mindset that extends beyond personal satisfaction to create a ripple effect of positivity and empathy.

The Power of Leading by Example:

Children are like sponges, absorbing behaviors and attitudes from their surroundings. If we want to raise grateful kids, we must first embody gratitude ourselves. Expressing thankfulness for simple pleasures—whether it's a radiant sunset or a delicious meal—sets a powerful example. Children are more likely to adopt a grateful mindset when they witness it consistently practiced at home. The more you practice gratitude - out loud and even when you don’t feel grateful - the more grateful you will automatically feel and your children will see that.

Actionable Tips: A Gratitude Blueprint

Tip 1: Create a Gratitude Ritual: A Daily Practice for Positivity

Incorporate a daily gratitude ritual into your family routine. Whether during dinner or bedtime, encourage each family member to share one thing they are grateful for that day. This simple practice not only fosters a positive atmosphere but also helps children develop the habit of reflecting on the positive aspects of their lives. It's a small investment of time with a big impact on shaping a grateful mindset.

At one point I wanted to expand on our mealtime, “What are you grateful for today”, so I put a big piece of butcher paper on the wall heading upstairs and placed markers there so that each time anyone went upstairs they could write something they were thankful for. If they didn’t write something, we would still see it every time we went upstairs. 

I kept that paper up for at least 6 months, it was getting a bit torn and tattered. After it came down I waited for a couple of weeks and then started asking the kids what was on that banner. It was amazing how many things they remembered. It also led to some impacting conversations about the experiences that led to our gratitude.

Tip 2: Prayer and Meditation: Cultivating Inner Gratitude

Incorporate moments of prayer and meditation into your family’s routine. Whether it’s a few minutes of quiet reflection before bedtime or a dedicated time for gratitude-focused prayer, these practices provide a space for children to connect with their inner selves and express gratitude. Encouraging mindfulness through prayer and meditation nurtures a deeper sense of appreciation for life's blessings.

This is such a key element to gratitude, no matter what your spiritual practice. As Christians, our days began with prayer, Bible verses, and reflection, and I would reinforce having quiet time for them to think, pray, and reflect. It was important that my kids realized where their Blessings came from, and to recognize even the smallest Blessings.

Tip 3: Volunteer as a Family: Cultivating Empathy and Appreciation

Engaging in volunteer activities as a family provides children with real-world experiences that foster gratitude. Whether helping at a local food bank, participating in community cleanups, or visiting nursing homes, these experiences offer valuable lessons about empathy and the impact of giving back. It's an opportunity to teach children that kindness and gratitude go hand in hand, making a difference in the lives of others.

It can be difficult finding opportunities with younger children so one of the things that we did was to set up events with Assisted Living facilities. Events such as All Saints Day, Game Day, Christmas Carols, and other Holiday fun. Since we were homeschooling, we had daytime availability during the week for these events, but you can definitely plan them for Saturdays. These do not have to be long, but be sure to allow time to just sit and get to know the residents. My kids preferred the times when we just went over to play games. They received wisdom, laughter, and self-confidence from wonderful angels who made my kids and me better people. I could not be more grateful for the time we spent with them.

We also prepared meals and set up cots for our church’s homeless program. Even though they were too young to meet the guests, the kids understood what we were doing and gained a deeper appreciation for what they had. This was very helpful when the 3 brothers, who shared a room and a bathroom, started feeling like they were too cramped! 

Don’t let busy schedules, lack of a close by Assisted Living Facility, or “logistics” stop you. Serving your neighbors in any way that is natural for your kids and family is the essence of gratitude.

Tip 4: Limit Materialism: Prioritizing Experiences Over Things

In a world saturated with consumerism, it's essential to teach children that happiness isn't solely derived from material possessions. Encourage experiences over things, emphasizing the value of relationships, adventures, and shared memories. By doing so, you're helping your child understand that gratitude extends beyond material wealth, fostering a deeper appreciation for the intangible aspects of life.

When our 4 children were ages 10-6 my husband lost his corporate job during a Recession. Since I was a new homeschool mom with 4 kids, and still trying to not ruin our kids, I was not working at all. We had to really tighten up our budget and Christmas loomed. We decided that we wanted to have a wonderful experience as a family as the “main present” for our kids that year, but I had no idea what we could do on our budget for 6 people.

What happened was a miracle, and started a tradition that lasted for 3 years. The memories we have from those indoor waterpark trips are priceless. Even more special, experiences have now turned into a “gift tradition” with our young adult kids as well. Instead of “things” my kids now give me experiences, some that we enjoyed while they were growing up, and new ones that are just ours. 

My “baby boy” takes me to a baseball game each year, a sport we both love. My daughter finds some of the best restaurants in the area and takes me to places like Art Museums and the Ballet. Both of which were things we did together for her birthdays growing up. Another son finds new places for us to kayak and/or hike each year and we spend the whole day together. My boys take their dad on an outing each year that I started as a gift to my husband many years ago. Build memories together and when times get rough, they will help your kids feel immense gratitude, and give them hope for the future.

Tip 5: Teach Mindful Communication: Expressing Needs with Gratitude

Help your children express their needs and desires in a way that reflects gratitude. Encourage them to use phrases like "thank you" and "I appreciate" when making requests or receiving help. When we, as parents, make a point to express our gratitude for things that our kids have done, we lift them up in a way that shows they are seen and respected.

Be intentional about noticing when your children do things well, or at all! Do whatever you can to praise them, legitimately, for noticing things, serving others, or doing something you would like to reinforce. A simple “thank you” can make a world of difference. You are showing gratitude for THEM and that is supremely powerful.

This not only reinforces positive communication skills but also cultivates an attitude of gratitude in daily interactions. The words we choose shape our mindset, and instilling gratitude into communication fosters a positive and appreciative atmosphere. This practice will also improve your relationship with your children as they grow up.

Tip 6: Foster a Gratitude Journal Habit: Documenting Daily Blessings

Introduce the concept of a gratitude journal to your children. Encourage them to jot down a few things they are thankful for each day. This practice not only reinforces gratitude but also serves as a tangible reminder of the positive aspects of their lives during challenging times. A gratitude journal is a personal sanctuary where children can reflect on the good, creating a habit that pays dividends in resilience and positive thinking.

I love this so much that I have about 10 gratitude journals…with anywhere from 10-40 pages used up in each. I have never been able to sustain a daily gratitude journal throughout my life, but the practice of journaling deepened my appreciation for many things. Journal with your children, but don’t be disappointed in yourself, or them, if they do not follow through for the rest of their lives. Practicing gratitude in all of these different ways allows all of us to incorporate it into our lives more seamlessly, where it has become part of the fabric of who we are.

Bonus - if you are homeschooling, this can be part of their writing each day. No need to tell them that, as if it were an assignment, but it counts! Here is a template for a gratitude journal for you to print and use with your kids.

Tip 7: Celebrate Achievements with Humility

When your child achieves a goal, whether big or small, celebrate the accomplishment while instilling humility. Emphasize the support they received, and the effort they put in, and express gratitude for the opportunities that contributed to their success. This approach helps children understand that achievements are often the result of collaboration and external factors. It lays the foundation for a humble yet grateful perspective on personal accomplishments.

I have tried to focus on how my kids were choosing to use the gifts that God gave them and the character traits they showed that led to their achievements. God blesses our efforts when we use our gifts and are humble enough to learn from others.  For example, when one of my boys dropped his swim time a ridiculous amount to qualify for States his first year swimming, I praised his coaches, his willingness to listen to me about his nutrition and sleep, and his hard work and discipline. 

In the fast-paced world we navigate, raising grateful kids is a gift we bestow not only upon them but upon society as a whole. By incorporating these actionable tips into our parenting repertoire, we instill a sense of gratitude that will serve our children well throughout their lives. From creating daily rituals to modeling gratitude, these strategies empower us parents to shape a positive and thankful mindset in the next generation, contributing to a brighter and more grateful future.

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