5 ways to foster gratitude in children

Photo by Courtney Hedger on Unsplash
 
For a fun video teaching kids the importance of gratitude, watch my Youtube video here.


We live in an increasingly material world, surrounded by stuff, where increasingly more stuff is being churned out into the world every single day. And the way this stuff is marketed to us, you’d think we couldn’t survive without the latest iphone, xbox or hoverboard.
Children today are a marketer’s dream because they, more than other generations before them, have a big influence on their parents’ purchasing decisions. In addition, they have purchasing power themselves. What this means is that companies pay billions for kid-targeted marketing which has resulted in an exploding toy and game industry.
Most children today have way too many toys…it’s a never-ending cycle of progressing from one brand to the next, as the child grows.
I know that with my girls, it’s been a succession from Bob the Builder into Dora the Explorer, then came My Little Pony, Disney Princesses, Spirit Riding Free and these days it’s How to train your Dragon.
Each of these TV shows have their own branded toys and all its’ accompanying accessories.

If I were to buy every single one of them over the years I, 1. would end up broke and 2. would have very unhappy kids!

But why unhappy kids? Didn’t they get what they wanted? Shouldn’t that make them happy? It would have. But only momentarily. Maybe for a day, or two…maybe even a week. But then, it would be onto the next material thing that would bring them that fleeting joy.

Materialism is hard to fight. It’s what we see all around us with the rich and famous such as movie stars, musicians and athletes being our heroes and the ones our children aspire to be like.
It creates a culture of ‘if only I had this, I would be happy’. But as most of us know, once we achieve that goal, yes we are happy, but for how long? Then, it’s onto the next thing.
This sort of striving is not a bad thing, after all that is how progress comes about.
What is bad for us is being too attached to the outcome, seeing that as the source of our happiness.
In fact, studies show that materialism in fact leads to unhappiness.

True happiness instead comes from within. Being happy is a habit and has to be learned and actively practiced on a daily basis, like brushing your teeth.
One of the best ways to improve happiness is to foster gratitude. This seems obvious – gratitude focuses on what we already have, not on something that we are hoping to get. And because we already have it, it makes sense that we would be happy knowing that we are already fulfilled.
But it`s not as easy as that. Gratitude is like a muscle, we have to exercise it regularly to keep it working and improve it.

Here are 5 ways we can teach our kids about fostering the art of gratitude:

1. Model grateful behaviour


Children do as we do, not as we say.
We all know this. So modelling grateful behaviour means they will automatically get into the same habit.
Talk about how grateful you are for something.
I try to voice my thoughts whenever I am feeling grateful. Yesterday, I had the following conversation with Neja:
Me: “It’s such a beautiful day today, look at that gorgeous sun out there. Don’t you feel like dancing outside with the sun shining on you?:”
Neja: “So? It was sunny yesterday too!”
Me: “That’s why I’m extra grateful to be having sun two days in a row. Isn’t that awesome? Right now, at this very second, there are lots of places out there in the world which are dark, cloudy and rainy but we are so lucky to be having sunshine right now.”
Neja: “That is pretty cool!”
And I was even more grateful in that moment because my kid was experiencing gratitude.
Just as teaching any subject like math or physics to someone else makes you better at it too, teaching gratitude to someone else makes you better at it too!

2. Take a few moments in a day to be grateful
I have made it a habit to think about 3 things I am grateful for, first thing in the morning.
So after I wake up, I stay in bed and close my eyes and visualize them and really feel the warm emotions of gratefulness and happiness come bubbling up.
It could be big things (like the fact that I don’t have to worry about hunger) or something really little (like my son’s tongue sticking out as he sleeps and how adorable he looks).

I haven’t taught the kids to do this yet but one thing we do at the dinner table every night is to talk about what we felt happy about during the day.
My usual question when the girls get home of ‘how was school?’ is always answered with a ‘fine’ but during dinner, when I ask what made them happy or what made them smile (I also ask what made them sad or angry just to make sure I am covering all bases), I will get a whole description of how Gabby had given Héli a flower during recess which made Héli want to hug her (and did) or how the teacher had complimented Neja on her kindness which made Neja very happy :)

3. Maintain a gratitude log or journal

Writing down what you`re grateful for can be powerful.
Actually seeing it in writing reinforces it more powerfully in your brain.

I`ll be honest, I have been rather inconsistent in keeping a journal, which is weird because I love writing and kept diaries filled with pages and pages of my innermost thoughts, as a kid.
However, one thing the kids (well, at least the girls because Thej is too little to write) and I do is to jot down one thing we are grateful for. We do this first thing after coming downstairs before sitting down for breakfast, in our gratitude log which I have taped up on our fridge.
Feel free to download it for your own use - it is in a word document so that you can personalize it with names/dates if required.

It can be things like ` having the kindest mother in the world` (aww) and `having cheerios instead of chia pudding for breakfast (!!!)`
It`s a great start to their day and I love reading what they write…it truly warms my heart and makes me grateful all over again!

4. Expose them to the world
My 3 year old son`s favourite version of an adventure is going on the city bus. To him, cars are boring and public transit is the way to go. That's no surprise, because he's been travelling in cars ever since he was born. But to most kids in developing countries and quite a few in developed ones, cars are a luxury, one their parents cannot afford.
Most children in 1st world nations are surrounded by abundance, so it is only natural that they grow up thinking that all children have the same amenities that they have.
Unless of course, we show them that this is not the case.

Teaching them about how other people in different countries live is essential to making them understand how very lucky they are. Teaching them about the child cacao pickers in West Africa who have probably never tasted a piece of chocolate in their life. About the chidren from Syria who have seen their homeland blown up, lost loved ones and are now forced to live in refugee camps in foreign lands. About the millions of children around the world who go to bed hungry. Or afraid. Or both.

It is an eye-opener for kids and will make them appreciate all that they have so much more.

5. Do for others


Helping others in even the littlest of ways gives us that warm glowing feeling and therefore contributes to happiness all on its own.
But another way helping others can create happiness is through the instillation of gratitude by being a reminder of how lucky we are.
For example, helping out at a food bank would not only intrinsically improve your happiness just through the act of giving but would also make you feel so very grateful for all the things you have and may have forgotten about until you see how many people don`t.

Learning to practice gratitude is really a marathon, not a sprint. It`s a habit and just like any habit, takes a while to learn. At first, you won`t feel those warm feelings of thankfulness and this should be communicated to children so that they don`t give up because they think it doesn`t work.

But the good think is that it doesn`t take a lot of time or energy to teach your brain to experience gratefulness. Teaching children the art of gratitude through simple but powerful ways will ensure that not only are they happy children now, but will someday become happy adults.

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