Hearing an ungrateful whine? Teach your children the value of gratitude

The beautiful fall colors and cooler days are really beginning to signal the start of the holiday season. In fact, the holiday decorations are already on display in most department stores. As I think about the stress and financial strain that can occur during the holiday season, I try to remind myself the reason we celebrate holidays, and feel grateful for the opportunity to reflect on another great year. 

Studies show gratitude is one of eight elements to living a happy life, resulting in success and well-being during adulthood, so it would make sense that helping youth learn gratitude will make them happy and successful as well. Taking this a step further, long-term studies of youth have validated the importance of gratitude, linking gratitude to greater social support and protection from stress and depression over time. We know gratitude is important, but how do we teach youth to be grateful? Keep these tips from the book, Making Grateful Kids: A Scientific Approach to Helping Youth Thrive, in mind as you teach your children the value of gratitude.

The first step to teaching gratitude is to model that behavior for your children. Expressing gratitude through spoken words, writing, small gifts or acts of kindness gives your children an example of what it means to be grateful. Mindfully showing gratitude will make it more public, set an example for your children, and also make you feel happier as a result! Take this a step further and help your children practice gratitude in their daily lives by praising their positive attitudes and asking them to acknowledge occurrences that positively impacted them that day. 

Next, support your child’s autonomy, help them discover their strengths and talents, and take ownership of their abilities. As youth take ownership over their skills and talents and become responsible for developing them, they gain things to appreciate in life and make it easier to attract support from others, thus inviting gratitude into their daily life. For example, allow youth to complete chores that fit their skill set or choose activities that utilize their talents, providing them with the opportunity to feel grateful for the talents and skills they have and invite gratitude from you or others for what they can accomplish.

Further, help your child focus on fulfilling intrinsic goals. In a time of instant gratification and extreme focus on extrinsic goals such as desiring or having possessions that show wealth, status, or convey a certain image, it is important to help your child see the value in focusing on intrinsic motivations. Focusing on extrinsic goals leads less fulfilling social relationships and can even stop youth from building positive connections with others. Instead, helping youth focus on and successfully achieve intrinsic goals such as engaging in activities that provide community, affiliation, and growth helps them feel a sense of belonging, build competency, and develop autonomy. For example, encourage them to join a club, participate in an extracurricular activity, or take lessons. These are critical to the development of empathy, gratitude, and happiness. Make sure to celebrate their achievements to further instill that sense of gratitude.  

Next, encourage your child to help others and cultivate relationships. Your child’s ability to build social relationships depends on empathy, gratitude, and service to others. Lead by example, and help them understand the importance of saying thank-you, giving small gifts, cooperative behavior, a helping hand, and a positive attitude have on building relationships with others. 

Lastly, help them find their passion. We all need a purpose in life, something we are passionate about that helps us create meaning in our lives. Helping your child find a passion that resonates with their values, talents, interests, and dreams, then encourage them to explore that passion and find a way they can make a difference. As your child learns and grows through their passions, they see the world in a different way and their place within that world.

Society today is in desperate need of more gratitude, and teaching youth the value of gratitude will ensure we are doing our part to not only ensure our youth are successful adults but also making our world a better place. So, parents and leaders, as the holiday season approaches, let’s try to encourage more gratitude and less materialistic fulfillment. Let’s work hard to show that gratitude really is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves!