Nurturing gratitude in the hearts and souls of our little ones is a vitally important task for our children’s social and emotional development. It’s a practice that not only enriches the present moments with joy but also lays the foundation for a lifetime of appreciation and kindness.
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is being able to express deep appreciation for the blessings that you have in your life. We express gratitude through gift giving, offering to help those in need, saying thank you, and honoring any way others may be generous with us.
Gratitude produces a deeply peaceful feeling within our souls, which makes it hard to “teach” to children. This is why you probably aren’t feeling very successful when you tell your child to be thankful for what they have. Instead, they will benefit from witnessing you embody the physical presence of gratitude.
Benefits of a Gratitude Practice
Not only does cultivating a practice of gratitude make one “feel” good, this practice also has several pronounced health benefits such as reducing stress and anxiety, lowering one’s chance of suffering from depression, and improving sleep. It’s what I like to call a “promoting” practice as it promotes positive outcomes.
Promotes Presence: when they’re grounded in the present moment, kids feel more connected to their family, friends, and communities. As a result, they experience a profound feeling of belonging in the world around them.
Promotes Cultural Appreciation: Being thankful for not only their own cultures and family histories - but appreciating the variety of cultural traditions that make up the human family - helps kids to feel more compassionate and respectful towards individuals from all walks of life.
Promotes Self-Confidence: When kids feel seen, heard, understood, and safe, they gain confidence and a deep appreciation of their unique self. This, in turn, allows them to appreciate others’ uniqueness more authentically, especially as they grow older.
Promotes Self-Worth: A child who views those around them from a lens of respect and appreciation is more likely to view and love themselves for who they are, not what they do or earn.
Promotes a Sense of Purpose: Practicing kindness and gratitude helps kids understand their own place in the world and how they are contributing to make it a better place for everyone.
Let’s explore 10 practical tips that can create a genuine sense of thankfulness in children.
10 Tips to Promote Gratitude in Your Children
1. What’s one thing you're grateful for today?
Once a day, go around the table and share one thing that you’re grateful for today. Children as young as 3 years old can meaningfully participate in this activity. If your kids are stuck, give them ideas: a game you played together, your family pet, a sibling, the sunshine, a favorite snack, a playdate with a good friend, etc.
2. Give back.
Teaching your children to serve the people in their community who need the most support is an essential part of building character and personal morality. Perhaps you bring a meal to an unhoused person you see on the corner. Maybe you volunteer at a soup kitchen or a Thanksgiving meal drive. You could also go through your toys and clothes and determine what things they could donate to children who are in need.
3. Go on gratitude walks.
Focus on being in the present moment and appreciating the beauty that surrounds you. Comment on how wonderful the rain is for watering our crops; or how beautiful the warm sun feels on our face.
4. Write a ‘Thank You’ note to a gift giver.
Helping your child write a thank you note to someone that gave them a gift is a great way for them to learn how to put their appreciative feelings into words. Understanding the “why” is important here; you’re teaching them that it’s not just about the gift they received, it’s about how the gift made them feel inside. Putting this down on paper not only holds a lot of power for children to really tap into that feeling of gratitude, but it also teaches them how to articulate it to others.
5. Start a family Gratitude Journal.
In the age of digital updates, there’s real value in bringing back a pen and paper. Initiate a family gratitude journal where everyone, from baby (with an adult or older sibling’s help, of course) to parents and grandparents can jot down moments of gratitude they experience as they happen throughout the day. Not only will it help make everyone feel more present, but they can also refer back to that journal anytime they need a little pick-me-up of thankfulness.
6. Practice self-gratitude affirmations with kids.
Introduce simple self-gratitude affirmations that kids can repeat daily. This mental health practice reinforces both gratitude and a positive attitude toward oneself, and will contribute to their overall sense of well-being. Teaching kids gratitude affirmations at a young age also helps create lifelong habits of maintaining a positive mindset. Affirmations like, “I am grateful for my healthy body!” and “I am grateful for my generous heart” are a great place to start.
7. Teach children to differentiate between needs and wants.
In the everything-on-demand Amazon world of life, it’s more important than ever to guide your kids in the discernment between needs and wants. This foundational lesson cultivates an attitude of gratitude for the essential things in life. By teaching your kiddos that something like a roof over your head and food on the table is a basic need— and theirs are covered—and that getting the new Lego set is a want, they’ll be more likely to appreciate the things they have all around them that they may not have noticed before.
8. Gratitude ‘treasure hunt’.
Transform gratitude into a playful experience with a gratitude treasure hunt. Create a list of things your children can be grateful for like their favorite stuffed animal or most-loved bedtime book, and hide little notes that say “I’m grateful for you!” or “I’m thankful to be your Mommy/Daddy” with those items. Give them the list of their gratitude items and send them off on a treasure hunt to find your notes of thanks.
9. Thank the Moon for a peaceful night.
During bedtime snuggles when your kiddo is relaxed and regulated is a perfect time to encourage your child to say, “Goodnight, Sun. Thank you for brightening my day. Goodnight, Moon. Thank you for watching over me as I sleep.” This small act of acknowledgement can really help shift their energy into a place of appreciation as they drift off to dreamland.
10. Thanking Planet Earth.
Encourage your children to feel grateful for our beautiful planet by helping to take care of it. Picking up litter, reusing grocery bags and consistently recycling are all easy ways for children to show Mother Earth some love.
These tips are not just about teaching consideration, they're about cultivating kindness and appreciation. After all, fostering gratitude isn't just a parenting technique; it's a gift that keeps on giving, shaping a brighter and more compassionate future for our little ones.
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