[View original article published in Parenting.answers.com here]
Why is it important that children learn to be grateful? How can you help them?
Here are 3 ideas that will work.
Children and Gratitude
Research has shown that those who are grateful have better long-term health. They are happier and more pleasant to be around. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor and author of The How of Happiness says, “People who are consistently grateful are happier, more energetic, more hopeful, and experience more frequent positive emotions. They also tend to be more helpful and empathetic, more spiritual and religious, more forgiving, and less materialistic than others who are less grateful.” When children feel gratitude, they will be happy with what they have and experience less sense of entitlement. They will have an improved attitude and outlook towards their life. Their relationships will be better, and they will experience softer hearts towards others.
How can children learn to be grateful?
Teach them empathy.
Research indicates that the ability to empathize with others and communicate successfully can make a big difference in the quality of one’s life -in this case our children’s current and future life.
Children are less critical and judgmental when they are truly able to understand how others may feel in different circumstances. Before children can identify how others feel, they first need to learn to understand their own emotions. They can develop a sense of what it means to be sad, mad, scared, etc. For instance, when you feel a strong emotion, verbalize it and talk about how you are handling this feeling. Learning to distinguish how other people may feel takes practice. Everyday events and routines can help you teach this concept.
When children are able to understand others’ feelings and their own, they can learn to be grateful for themselves and those that surround them.
Teach them to be grateful despite adversity.
When children learn to work hard and endure through their struggles, they are able to build deep confidence within themselves. They will learn that they can accomplish something of significance on their own. These experiences can give children the ability to face increasingly “harder things” as they grow. Eventually, no challenge in life will faze them. Parents can help them realize it was adversity that made them stronger. Here are some suggestions:
1. Help them to focus on the things they can control, and to ignore the things they cannot control. What this means is that they can focus on the “process,” and not the “results.” The “process” is what they can control in their lives. The “results” are the things they cannot control. For example, they can control their effort, attitude, and preparation level.
2. Children can develop a strong sense of independence as they learn to take the lead in taking care of the things they can do for themselves (no matter what their age).
3. When children experience little successes, they start building confidence in themselves. Help them notice one small victory at a time and let them build on one another. Use encouraging words and stay away from superficial praise.
4. Listening and validating their feelings will provide a sense of security every day. Kids need to know that you care.
5. As opportunities arise, help them see that they are able to survive life’s ups and downs. Their sense of gratitude will increase as they become aware of their ability to endure afflictions.
6. When you make a mistake, own it and show them how to figure out what to do next. Set a personal example by trying new things together with them. Help them understand that mistakes are part of life.
7. Children will gain more confidence when they know that you also have confidence in them. Tell them, “You can do this even though it’s hard!”
Children can learn to push themselves to find out where their real potential is. As they get older they’ll appreciate their competence and strengths. They’ll find joy and gratitude despite difficulties.
Be a personal example of gratitude.
As you teach gratitude to your children:
1. Model the desired behavior. Tell them and show them what you are grateful for.
2. Ask them every day to tell you one thing they are thankful for and why.
3. Make gratitude part of your family culture.
4. Introduce your children to the joy of giving.
5. Help your kids notice and appreciate the little things in life.
6. Make sure they look for opportunities to say “Thank you.”
There is much good in the world to celebrate and children can learn with our example. We can help them to find that good and stay focused on it rather than all the negative out there. We can be optimistic and they’ll follow our lead. By celebrating what’s right with their lives, our children will find the energy to fix what’s wrong and be happier.
Our children can become grateful for life itself. They can learn that every day truly is a gift!