7 Everyday Ways To Teach Your Kids Gratitude
Updated: Nov 19, 2020
"He’s So Ungrateful!” About a year ago my son who is 4.5 years old now became a big fan of LEGO. He got obsessed with unpacking new boxes and he wanted to do it every week! Whenever we went to Emporium, he would go into his “I want new Lego” begging.
At first, we felt OK to buy it. He looked so happy when he was building new things and we could not resist to give him more of that. We used the “Birthday Wish List” strategy, which worked for a while, but soon it started getting out of control.
My husband complained: "We'd think he'd be grateful for all the toys that we have already bought for him”. Before we labeled our son as ‘an ungrateful kid’ we asked ourselves a question “How do we contribute to the problem?”. Answer to this question made us realize that our parenting was largely the source of the problem and that this situation was not a challenge, but a gift to teach our son The Art of Gratitude.
Gratitude is a learnt behaviour. No one is born with it. Recognizing that somebody has made an effort for you and showed a sign of kindness is not something that comes naturally for children. By learning how to be grateful children develop one of the most important life skills -- a skill of Emotional Literacy. They become aware of other people’s feelings, they develop empathy and compassion.
When can you start teaching Gratitude?
Before we talk about the strategies let’s look at when exactly the child’s brain is capable to comprehend the concept of gratitude:
18 months: Around this age all kids start realizing that other people have feelings. Even though the kids can't articulate their appreciation, they begin to understand concepts that lead to gratitude. Toddlers notice that parents do things to make them happy (playing with them, reading to them, offering them their favorite food).
2 to 3 years: Children start talking, expressing their appreciation for materials things, toys, and people’s attention using simple words like “Thank you” or just pointing at things with their fingers.
By age 4 children become verbal and at the same time their brain is finally capable of understandings gratitude not only for material things like toys but also for acts of kindness, love, and caring. When my son turned 4 we started our little family dinner ritual when we would go around the dinner table each night and say one thank you to each other on that day.
Things You Can Do To Teach Gratitude:
1. Say “Thank you” --“Monkeys see, monkeys do”--. Children model their parents in every way, so use “thank you" when you talk to them. You also want to draw your child’s attention to the fact that it’s essential to look into each other eyes, when this happens. As a parent, I would go on my knees to reach the same height level as my son, look into his eye and say full heartedly “Thank you”. While with little kids it may feel like a forced” thank you”, frame it as a first step in the process.
2. Go beyond “Thank you”. Bring the gratitude into your daily family conversations. Try to inject your words of appreciation into normal things. I’m so happy when you help me to tidy up the toys. We're so lucky to have a balcony and we can plant the flowers for you to look after”, "Isn’t it wonderful that you are able to listen to your body and recognize that you are hungry and ask for snacks.”
3. Promote a thank-you notes culture: “If you were to write a “thank you’ note for somebody at school, who would you write it for?” I would invite my son to reflect on week at school and ask if there is anyone he wants to acknowledge for their kindness and care. My son’s first thank you notes were just scribbles, then they became drawings and now that he learns how to write he started doing his own letters and giving the notes to his teacher.
4. Dig deeper. As your child gets better at expressing gratitude, ask why he is grateful for something and how it affects him. When children receive birthday presents you can encourage them to write an individual “thank you” note to people who gave them. Ask some of the questions like: What do you think about this present? What do you feel about this present? What about this gift that makes you feel happy?
5. Share your gratitude at bedtime Take five minutes at the end of the day to ask your child what he is thankful for that day. “What was your best part of the day? What was your not-so-best part of the day?
6. Read Books about Kindness: One of my favorite books is ‘Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids” by Carol McCloud. It’s a book that uses a metaphor of a bucket and when we choose to be kind, we not only fill the buckets of those around us, but also fill our own bucket!
7. Watch Kindness Movies. Spend time together as a family watching the best kindness movies like “Trolls”, ‘Up” “Finding Dory” or ‘Zootopia”
And remember to be patient! You can't expect gratitude to develop overnight. It requires months and years of reinforcement. But if you stick with it, you will be rewarded. While it’s still work in progress I can now report that a year after my LEGO parenting breakdown, my son is a grateful and patient boy who is just as excited about requesting gifts for his sister as for himself.