How to Teach Gratitude to Children
Teaching children gratitude can be difficult, especially when we live in a highly developed country. We would think living in circumstances that are lacking in the necessities of life would lead us to be naturally more grateful, but often it just leads to feelings of entitlement and envy. We envy the luxury and the ease of other’s lives, and view ourselves as suffering more than all others because of what we perceive as lacking. While adults are far from immune to this tendency, children are especially susceptible to developing feelings of envy – in part – because of the way that they are advertised to in almost every aspect of their lives. Do your children have screen time? Do they come with you to the store? Do they go to community activities? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then they are seeing advertisements. Advertising is so ubiquitous that we as adults tend to forget how often we are actually seeing them. Experts estimate that we see upwards of TEN THOUSAND advertisements a day just from being online. Think about that for a minute. Ten. Thousand. Ads. Every day. All designed to make us think that we don’t have enough in our lives. Consumerism refined to a psychological manipulation. As adults we have the ability to block that out to a certain degree, but children haven’t developed that kind of filter yet, and children with ADHD are far less equipped to develop those kinds of screening filters as they grow than neurotypical children are. This is always particularly evident to me when I take my children to the store with me. The second we walk in I’m immediate bombarded with requests. “Mom, can we get this?! Mom, can we get that for the playroom? Mom, can we buy this candy? Mom, can we each get a new blanket? Mom. Mom. Mom. MaaAhhhmmm!!!!!” If I don’t have a specific list written out, and I’m just running everyone in to grab a few things, it is inevitable that we leave without half of what I had on my list because I’m not allowed to string together a coherent thought without being interrupted by a request for some random thing followed by heartbroken looks and watering eyes as they gaze upon the suddenly longed for item fading from view. I hate taking my kids shopping. So much.
How does teaching children Gratitude help? Teaching our children about how to practice gratitude empowers them to step outside of the American consumerist mindset and see the bounty of their lives. It doesn’t solve every problem you may experience with entitlement, but it gives children tools to see themselves as capable of living without satisfying every whimsical desire. If self-mastery is something you would like to teach your children, then practicing gratitude is a great way to start. It takes discipline to look at our lives and intentionally choose to see the bounty and beauty within it. As we talked about here, gratitude is much more than just “counting our blessings”, but starting with something like that is a solid way to teach children to step outside themselves and view the world in a different way. Gratitude Activities for Kids: · Mealtime Thankfuls. This is something a friend of mine told me she has started to do with her children. They do theirs at breakfast, but after they have prayed over the food, every member of the family takes a turn saying 1-2 things that they are grateful for that morning. This can be done at any meal, but it’s a great way to bring gratitude practice into your meals! · Family Journal. Keeping a family journal is another way of practicing gratitude. Each member of the family can contribute one thing that they are grateful for to add to the journal entry for the day · Writing letters of Gratitude. This is one that I’ve done with our kids as part of our Boys Activity Days group at church. We actually have a couple of printable in our shop that I used for this point. I printed off the cards from our Family Gratitude Bundle and from our Thanksgiving Love Notes, and I let each boy cut them out and write messages in them to anyone they wanted. The boys had a surprisingly good time doing this, plus it was a fun writing activity! · Acts of Service. When we think of service, we think of helping out in a soup kitchen or picking up trash along the side of a road, and these can be great ways to serve our communities, but they aren’t the ONLY way. Making food for a sick family, mowing someone’s lawn, raking leaves for your elderly neighbor, playing with the kids of a mom who has just had a new baby, making a sibling’s bed, these are all acts of service that can help kids learn to step outside themselves.
How to be Successful in Teaching Children Gratitude There are two main keys to teaching a child anything, including gratitude. The first is consistency. Humans are repetitive creatures, and we learn best by doing things over and over again. Children especially need consistency and repetition to learn new skills or change undesirable habits. As I always advise: pick just ONE idea and implement it for 6 months! This seems like a long time, but if you’re working with children who have some kind of psychological disability then they need a lot longer to create a good habit than neurotypical people might. Give your family time to adjust to a new habit, internalize it’s practice, AND see the longer term benefits of practicing it! The second key to success is to model the behavior you want to see in your children! If you want your children to practice gratitude in their lives, then they need to see you practicing it as their parents! Express gratitude to them for their help around the house, when they do things without argument, when they master something difficult then thank them for their hard work! Join them in whatever gratitude practice you choose to do, and let them see that a mindset of gratitude is important to your family values. If you would like a simple way to practice gratitude with your family then check out our Family Gratitude Journal! Perfect for creating a simple habit of gratitude, this is an easy way to start practicing gratitude within your home. Click here to check it out!