Five steps to instil an attitude of gratitude
Instilling an attitude of gratitude in your child from a young age has a number of benefits. Studies show that those who are truly appreciative for all they receive in life (for both material and immaterial things) tend to be happier, live more contented lives, have higher self-esteem, more empathy and optimism, and even more positive attitudes towards their family and school. Appreciative people are also more likeable, and are therefore more likely to form friendships and other positive relationships.
So what can you do to teach your child gratitude?
As one mother admitted, she taught her three-year-old son to always say thank you, but realised that this in itself was not enough to make him understand or experience gratitude. It was just a word he had to say. Yes, saying the word is very important and it is a part of gratitude, but there is also a lot more to it. Here are five steps to help instil an attitude of gratitude in your child.
Make it part of your routine
Repetition is the best way to learn, so make being grateful a part of your daily routine. Perhaps at dinner or during the bedtime routine, ask your child what three things they are grateful for. Examples of things to be grateful for include something that happened in the day (for example, that they had a fun playdate with a friend or went for ice cream with granny) or it could be for something more general (maybe a favourite toy they have or because so-and-so is their friend). By making them think about and identify these things, it will make them more conscious of how fortunate they are to have them, rather than simply expecting them.
Live the lesson
As a parent, you need to demonstrate all the principles you are trying to teach your child. You cannot tell your child to be grateful, but then live by a different set of rules. Make sure you show gratitude on a regular basis. Say thank you and mean it. When they tell you what three things they are grateful for, you should also list three gratitudes you have. And try to be grateful for a range of things – not just material things – which brings us to the next point.
Minimise the material rewards
Encourage your child to not only want and value material things, like toys. This can be hard, as material things are easy to want, to gift and to appreciate. They are also clear and obvious things you can touch and name, making them easier for young children to understand. However, if you place too much value on material items, your child will lose sight of other very important things to value, such as other people’s efforts, time and love. So why not ask family to give experience gifts rather than physical gifts, such as taking your child to a play or theatre performance for his birthday? Or maybe encourage your child to request two birthday gifts each year from you: a material thing they want, such as a toy, and also an activity they would like to do with you, which will create a happy memory and be something they can keep and treasure for long after the birthday has passed… and the toy has been forgotten.
And if you want to reward your child for good behaviour, don’t immediately reach for your purse to buy some sweets. Instead, tell them why you are so impressed by what they did. Hug them. Let them spend time with you doing something of their choosing. Do not set up the expectation that they deserve a material reward for doing something good.
Have a stash of thank you notes in the house
As soon as your child can hold a crayon, encourage them to draw a picture as a thank you gift when a friend has given them something, or one of your family members has looked after them for the afternoon. When they get older, they can sign a thank you card. Write the card for them, but involve them with what you are writing, so they understand why they are saying thank you. And then, when they are old enough, they will be able to write their own cards. Taking the time out to express their thanks like this is a great way to make them aware of why they are saying thank you.
Do good as a family
Doing good things for others not only makes you feel good about yourself, but makes you aware of and appreciate what you have. All too often we fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to people who have more than us, while forgetting to recognise that there are other people who have much less than we do. By involving your children in volunteering at a charity or donating their unwanted items to a good cause, you will make them understand how lucky they are to have the life they have.
All of these suggestions take time and effort, but you will find the rewards you reap are worth it. Not only are you nurturing a child who is more appreciative of everything, but you’ll rediscover the depth of your own gratitude too!