When I was asked to provide my ideas for raising grateful children, I thought how better to test my theories than to ask my own children (16 and 12).
- Explain gratitude and why it matters –Help them understand that it’s about appreciating when someone makes a choice to do something for you. At our house, my husband makes dinner nearly every night. We all say thank you – but have also talked about everything that goes into making it happen and all the choices that were made to ensure we have a delicious and nutritious meal on the table. From conceiving the menu to stopping at the store after a long day at work to buy the ingredients to preparing the food and then there’s the clean-up. Even if all the actions are apparent to the child, talking about it helps them appreciate what is involved and deepens their gratitude.
More often than not, while enjoying a delicious dinner one of my kids enthusiastically states, “This is the best spaghetti ever! Thanks Dad.” To which, my husband replies, “That’s music to my ears.” Being grateful and appreciative is highly motivating and begets additional acts of kindness. Understanding this connection helps them see why being grateful matters.
- Explain it when you see it – Use other examples in your life or the world so they begin to see kindness, appreciation and gratitude at work all around them. Another example my kids brought up was being grateful for the stuff they have. I’ve talked with them about how many hours I have to work to buy them something. They’ve come to understand and are grateful for that exchange. In fact, my daughter shared that sometimes she won’t ask for something because she knows how long I’d have to work to afford it and she doesn’t think it’s worth it.
- Give them the chance to experience a different life –Involve kids in volunteer activities and in making charitable donations. Give them the opportunity to engage with people from different communities and in different situations. Developing empathy in children helps them understand and appreciate both their own situation and how they can positively impact the lives of others.