We're in a recession, the economy is in shambles and unemployment rates are at an all-time high. Add the frenzy around the H1N1 virus onto that and we're left with a current societal state of doom and gloom. Although it can be very difficult to seek out that silver lining when you feel burdened by cloudy grey skies, it's essential that parents figure out a way to find it. There's no doubt that kids are hearing conversations about money, getting exposure to the news and sensing the general malaise about our society. Now more than ever, it is important to teach kids about gratitude.
Study after study has shown that people who practice grateful thinking are healthier, happier and more content with their lives than those who don't. Robert Emmons at the University of California, Davis, conducted a long-term study on gratitude and found that the benefits of a grateful attitude also include: higher levels of optimism and life satisfaction; more generosity and helpfulness towards others; and less of a focus on material goods. In addition, he found that children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families (Froh, Sefick, & Emmons, 2008).
Teaching your kids gratitude at an early age provides them with an outlook that will impact them positively for the rest of their lives. So, how do you do it? The most effective way is to model grateful behavior in front of your children. Say 'thank you' often to friends and strangers, talk about things you're thankful for everyday (not just at Thanksgiving!) and teach your kids to be appreciative of all the wonderful things they have in their lives.
I recently spoke with Dr. Caron B. Goode, founder of the Academy for Coaching Parents International, to learn more about simple tips for helping kids develop grateful thinking. She is a strong advocate of parents and kids embarking on a more grateful journey, whether by writing in a journal together or simply asking young kids what they were happy about in their days. Dr. Goode said, "Sharing in words and pictures is contributory to kindness and resilience more than anything else," adding, "I find gratitude is reinforced in the sharing."
She also suggested the following methods:
1) Daily Dose: Take time each day to encourage your children to express gratitude. They can do this by making an entry in a family journal or by simply talking about what they are grateful for.
2) Model Thanks: As with everything, modeling is the best way to teach your children to be grateful. Be lavish with your thanks. Thank your children for hugs. Thank the cashier for ringing up your groceries. Thank the bus driver for returning your students home safely. Letting your children see that you are grateful will encourage them to be so as well.
3) Establish Rituals: We all know the importance of family rituals. Establishing rituals that highlight being thankful is a wonderful teaching tool. Start dinner with each family member sharing what they are most grateful for. Say goodnight by sharing what you were thankful for that day. Any ritual that based on gratitude will reinforce its power.
4) Volunteer: Volunteering is a great way for your children to see gratitude in action. There are numerous chances in every community to volunteer. Homeless shelters, nursing homes, and mentoring programs are just a few. There may also be other opportunities closer to home. Perhaps an elderly relative or neighbor could use a hand. It feels good to help others. Therefore, your children not only benefit from that, but they also get to experience the warmth of appreciation. Two things for which they can be grateful.
5) Assign Chores: Children learn by doing chores. They learn what it means to be part of a whole. They learn their contributions are important. They also learn that most things take effort. Simple household chores can help children learn to be grateful when they benefit from the efforts of others.
6) Thank You Notes: Writing thank you notes for gifts is a very literal way of teaching your children gratitude. Putting down on paper what they enjoyed about a particular gift, reminds your children why they are grateful for it.
7) Find Your Gratitude: Always be on the lookout for things to be grateful for and express your gratitude. When your children hear you say things like, "Buster is such a good dog" or "What a beautiful day", they realize they can be grateful for even the smallest of things.
The effects of this way of thinking will be far reaching for kids and parents alike. By developing more authentic gratitude, you will have the tools to persevere through adversity with a greater sense of hope and purpose, and provide your children with an invaluable life skill.