Six Tips for Teaching Children Gratitude
By: Kathleen Berchelmann, MD, FAAP (Adapted from healthychildren.org)
(Part 1 of 2)
Tired of bickering, jealousy, and selfishness? Kids are naturally materialistic and self-serving- but the good news is that gratitude can be taught. And from gratitude flows joy.
1. Surprise them! Avoid too many choices: Surprises help children see something as a gift, not an entitlement. Having too many choices breeds unhappiness- you are always wondering if you could have something better. One night, we tried to have a conversation with our children about where we might go for our summer vacation. Within five minutes, Disney World was not good enough. Everyone had a better idea, and no one was going to be happy with whatever we came up with. I put a prompt end to that conversation, and about a week later, I announced that I had a big surprise- we were going to Mt. Rushmore! I showed off my plans for our national park camping vacation, and they couldn’t have been more excited. Our low-budget road trip turned out to be a fabulous success.
2. Talk about the best parts of your day: Find some time each day to talk about what you are thankful for- perhaps at the dinner table, before bed, or while you are driving in the car. Ask your children, “What was the best part of your day?”
- For older children, try keeping a gratitude journal.Gratitude journals have been shown to be an effective approach to helping children be happier: One study had 221 sixth- and seventh-graders write down five things they were grateful for every day for two weeks. Three weeks later, these students had a better outlook on school and greater life satisfaction compared with kids assigned to list five hassles.
3. Teach your children their past: What are your family stories of hardship and perseverance? My husband’s great-grandmother ironed for a living- her iron is now a bookend in our house, reminding our children what hard work really means. As a child, my grandmother washed dishes for ten cents per week during the depression. We keep her picture in our study, and tell our children her story. Not sure of your past? Just take a family trip to the history museum, a battlefield, or other historic site. You will return home grateful.
4. Help your children serve someone who does not “need” charity: It’s great for kids to participate in scout food collections and other community charity programs, but these events only occur a few times per year and you rarely meet the people you are serving. Find someone in your everyday life for your children to serve regularly, even if this person doesn’t really need charity. We have a neighbor who lives alone and appreciates our left-overs so she doesn’t have to cook for one person. Our kids love to bring her food. One night they were all griping about how they didn’t like the dinner I made, until I asked them to bring a plate to our neighbor. Suddenly all the complaining stopped and they were out the door with her food, eager to have the opportunity to serve her.
5. Focus on the positive, all day: I tell my children several times each day, “Attitude is a choice.” Choosing to have a positive attitude is actually our #1 house rule. It’s an all-day effort to constantly turn around the whining, jealousy, and complaining and instead focus on positive. “I’m thirsty!” needs to become, “Mommy, may I please have a drink?” “Where are my shoes?!” has to change to “Daddy, can you please help me find my shoes?”
6. Say “Thank you”: Teach young children to say “thank you” as part of a full sentence, for example, “Thank you, Daddy, for making dinner.” Encourage school-aged kids to say thank you throughout the day, especially when you help them get ready for school or drive them to activities. Have them thank coaches for practice and music teachers for lessons.
- Struggling to get your children to say “thank you” without reminders? For ten years I reminded my children to say “thank you” when they were served at a restaurant, but I just couldn’t get them to do it without prompting. Now, if they forget to say “thank-you” they have to seek out their server and personally thank them before leaving. No more reminders necessary…
Stay tuned… six more tips to come next month. (December 2017)
Dr. Sky Pittson