Especially during the holiday season, it’s easy for children to get carried away with the “I wants” and the “give me’s” and the “I hafta have its.” Christmas lists are more exorbitant than ever, and even the most empathetic children can lose sight of gratitude as they tear through gift after gift. Most children, by the time they enter grade school, know when to say “thank you,” but teaching children why they should say thank you isn’t always as straightforward.
Adopting an attitude of gratitude reaps many benefits for adults and children alike. Grateful people spend less time comparing themselves to others. They feel less stressed out, less envious and less entitled. Those who practice gratitude are proven to be 25% happier than those who don’t.
So, during the holidays and all year round, follow these 10 simple tips from our child counselors for raising grateful, happy children:
1. Lead by example: Express gratitude to those who show kindness to you—the neighbor who helps water your plants while you’re away, the stranger who holds a door open for you, and even your own children, when they help with household chores.
2. Call attention to generosity: When you notice small (or large) acts of kindness in the world around you, point it out. Show your children that kind deeds and gestures—helping someone without being asked, or going above and beyond to make someone else’s day extra special—don’t go unnoticed.
3. Talk to your kids: Talking to you children about how showing appreciation makes other people feel can help them understand emotions, as well as how his or her behavior affects other people. Ask questions, like, How does it feel when people thank you for doing something kind?, and, How do you feel when you do something kind, but no one says thank you? This is also a good time to explain why it’s important to show gratitude.
4. Get creative with thanksgiving: If saying, “thank you” to a stranger is difficult for your shy child—or if writing a thank you note poses a challenge—try thanking people in other ways. Sometimes a genuine smile, thumbs up, or hand-drawn picture does just the trick.
5. Pay it forward: Have your children make a list of the people in their community who help them: teachers, coaches, first responders, etc. Then come up with a fun and creative way to thank them, maybe by baking cookies or cupcakes. This not only teaches kids to show gratitude, but also gives them an idea of how communities work and how we are all connected.
6. Find some perspective: Without scaring your child, explain that there are many other less fortunate children in the world—children without the advantages that they have. Teach them about how other children live and ask thought-provoking questions about how their lifestyle differs from children who live in less fortunate parts of the country and world.
7. Volunteer in a meaningful way: What causes pique the interest of your children? Whether it be a bake sale for a local charity, a walk or run for homeless animals, or a fundraising drive at school, let your children’s interests drive their philanthropic involvement.
8. Make it a family affair: Volunteering with your children—at a homeless shelter, a senior citizen’s home, an animal shelter, etc.—can bring you closer together while making memories and learning about the relationship between giving and gratitude.
9. Work gratitude into your bedtime routine: At bedtime, ask your child to list three things he or she is grateful for, and tell him or her three things that you are grateful for. This will help end each day on a positive note, even if it hasn’t been the best day…
10. Be openminded: Be mindful of the unique and creative ways your child may choose to express gratitude. Every child is different. Some will prefer a verbal “thank you,” while others may show their appreciation by helping out around the house, or with a big bear hug. Allow your children to develop their own, personal way of expressing gratitude, and give them credit for doing so.
No child is ever too young—and no adult is ever too old—to practice gratitude. These simple tips from our child counselors can help keep your kids level-headed and grateful during the holiday season, and all year round.
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