I recently read this article titled ”Teaching Kids the Importance of Gratitude’ by Kristen Stewart, and it reminded me of how much my life has been enriched by simply being thankful for what I have in life.
There was definitely a time in life when all I wanted was MORE. More salary, more clothes, more homewares, more partying. Amongst other things, having children has changed that for me, each day I try very hard to be grateful, thankful for everything I have.
Both my husband and I volunteer in various places, one of which is a homeless project where we serve to provide people who virtually have nothing but the basic comforts in life; Food, a bed, clothing and love and seriously I would say I get more out of it myself than the people I volunteer with do. It makes me feel grateful for what I have and I would love my children to grow up with this feeling in their hearts.
In her article, Kristen Stewart says that ‘Expressing feelings of thanks can decrease stress and increase a feeling of belonging. The best way parents can raise grateful kids is by modelling the behaviour themselves’
‘Most parents have taught their children the importance of saying thank you by grade school, if not sooner. But how many have truly instructed them in the art of being grateful?
It’s easy enough to say thanks to Grandma for a sweater. The bigger challenge is in helping children see why they should be happy about receiving a sweater instead of a toy. This is where gratitude comes in.
The Importance of Gratitude
Both expressing — and feeling — gratitude are important parts of life. “Gratitude in the most basic terms is being thankful and appreciative of the good things you have,” says Sheela Raja, PhD, an assistant professor and clinical psychologist in the Colleges of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago. You can be grateful for a wide range of “gifts,” everything from nature and good food to good luck or a wonderful opportunity for the people in your life, according to Raja.
A sense of gratitude can benefit children (and adults) in a variety of ways. It can decrease stress and has other important emotional health benefits. A person who is grateful tends to spend less time comparing him or herself with others and feeling envious. It also helps people, especially children, step into someone else’s shoes and realize that another person did something nice for them even though he or she didn’t have to. “We want our children to be able to relate to other people’s feelings and to feel a sense of belonging in their classrooms and community,” says Raja. “Cultivating a sense of gratefulness goes a long way toward this goal.”
Ways to Teach Gratitude
Just as you teach your kids to read and write, you can also educate them in gratitude. And it’s never too early to start.
Toddlers and preschoolers should be taught to say thank you when they receive a gift or a kindness from another person. Modeling is also critical for kids this age. “Kids pick up on what parents do and say,” says Raja. “If you feel grateful about something that happened to you, share it with them.” Keep in mind the size of the good fortune doesn’t matter, which is another important lesson. Parents can show gratitude for something big like a gift, but also something small, such as a sunny day or a cup of fresh coffee.
By grade school, children can think a little more in depth and should be encouraged to reflect on their day. Parents should ask what they liked and what they feel grateful for. Raja encourages her family to say what they are grateful for before dinner each night while Paula Langguth Ryan of Boulder, Colo., and author of Giving Thanks, The Art of Tithing, recommends a gratitude list. The gratitude list can be good things that happened, but can and should also include possible good things that can come out of something bad that occurred.
Teens should also focus on gratitude lists, says Ryan. “Teach them to imagine five really good reasons why something might have happened,” she explains. “Have them think outside the box to really big things, like if someone breaks up with them, it may be creating an opening for an even greater relationship. Or if they don’t get into the school of their choice, it may be because an even better opportunity is coming up to do something they love.”
Ultimately gratitude can help adults and children alike, and the best thing parents can do is be a good role model for their children. So the next time something good — or even not so good — happens, express your appreciation out loud. Everyone will benefit from it.’
Amanda Waring x