How to teach your kids to be grateful

For Parents Nov 12, 2020

Note: this article is a guest post by Kelsey Paul, founder of The Whole N' Happy.

How do you get your kids to appreciate what they have instead of thinking about what they want?

The short answer is to teach them gratitude...and make it fun!

Studies show that when we have a positive emotion while learning something, we are more likely to feel motivated to continue learning or practicing it.

This is why inserting playfulness and enjoyment into your gratitude practice at home can help your kids feel motivated to keep doing it. But first, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the meaning and science behind gratitude in case your learner asks any questions!

Share these gratitude facts with your kids

Gratitude is the quality of being thankful, or the willingness to show appreciation for something. I explain it to kids by saying, “it means thinking about all of our haves, on purpose.” Another way I say it is “an easy way to fill our own bucket, so we can fill others' buckets, too.”

However, gratitude not only makes us feel good. It also changes our brain and enhances our mind-body connection!

The regions of our brain involved in practicing gratitude are associated with the neural networks that light up when we feel pleasure. These same regions are strongly connected to the parts of the brain that regulate our emotions and provide stress relief.

Gratitude can improve our mental and physical health over time and help those with depression.

This means a regular gratitude practice can significantly affect how we deal with stress and regulate our emotions in the future. Scientists say that gratitude can even improve our mental and physical health over time and help those with depression.

But gratitude's benefits do take time; studies have found that the longer you practice gratitude, the greater effect it has on your outlook on life and overall health.

The good news is that like with any practice, the more you do it, the easier and more natural it becomes. Instead of gratitude just being part of your routine, it transforms into a way of being.  Our brains begin taking a more positive outlook. We start looking for what's going well in our lives instead of what could be improved.

To recap, here are 5 quick facts about gratitude to share with your kids:

  1. Gratitude means being thankful.
  2. Gratitude improves the mind-body connection.
  3. Gratitude can positively impact your physical and mental health.
  4. The longer you practice gratitude, the greater the benefit.
  5. The more you practice, the easier it gets.

How to make a gratitude practice come alive for your learner

Here are a few simple ways you can begin practicing gratitude with your family today.

Use a physical object for your gratitude practice

Decorate a gratitude jar or box and spend time each week writing and reading your notes from the jar. Or create a gratitude journal or bulletin board and practice writing in it at the same time, each day. Whatever the method, make it simple and aligned to what your kids like to do!

A gratitude jar decorated to look like a robot.

Show and tell

One of the most empowering ways to teach your child something is to make it a part of your own life and model it to them. Show your kids what it sounds and feels like to be thankful by sharing what you appreciate about them each night. Share your own list of haves with them when they come up naturally in conversation and ask them what they have in their lives that they cherish.

Make gratitude fun and interactive

In my mindfulness courses on Outschool, I teach kids about gratitude through engaging activities, like drawing, listening to stories, and watching animated videos. We reflect on how it feels to think about what we want versus how it feels to think about everything we already have.

At the end of class, we do a gratitude challenge together, where we write or draw everything we are grateful for in only three minutes. After those three minutes, I almost always hear kids exclaim, “that was fun” or “can we do that again?”

Create a ritual together

Research says that we are more likely to make something a habit if we practice it at the same time each day or week. Create a family ritual together by having each member of your family share their “haves” each night at dinner or during your bedtime routine. You can also add themes to each night's gratitude practice. For example, one night share the foods you are thankful for and another night, share the toys or objects you are most thankful for.

Focus on process instead of results

Take time to do things with your kids without an end goal . This helps them focus on the now and create experiences where they are doing things for their own sake, instead of a grade, a win, or a compliment. The more we focus on the process, the less we focus on the “finish line” or what we don't have.  Gratitude works the same way: the more we focus on what we do have, the less we need to think about our wants.

A collage of learner-created gratitude jars.

Bring your children's awareness to others' situations

Another meaningful way to help kids feel grateful is to give to others who have less. Include your kid in donating toys or clothes to those in need, or volunteering with them at a food bank. This helps your kids understand the meaning of needs and wants through experience, and it naturally leads to authentic conversations about being thankful for what we have.

A gratitude practice is a simple way to help your kids build resilience and improve their mental health during a time of heightened stress and anxiety. Beyond just an action that learners can take, it eventually even can become a positive part of their identity!

Explore The Whole N' Happy on Outschool

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