Even in the midst of extremely challenging circumstances, we can usually find something to be thankful for. In addition to helping us cope with challenges, this kind of grateful attitude can be contagious and is a wonderful life lesson to share with our kids.
I believe that children learn what they live and that everyone around them serves as a role model to them. Setting the right example can be crucial in the beginning years of a child’s life.
Why is teaching gratitude to our kids so important?
Because most of us are actually born feeling entitled to our parents’ care. That means that if we don’t teach kids gratitude and practice it with them, they grow up feeling entitled, and are usually disappointed, feeling that nothing is good enough for them. This leads to feelings of disappointment and frustration.
In contrast, children who express gratitude are kinder, more appreciative, more empathetic, happier and more enthusiastic. They get higher grades, are more satisfied with their lives, and feel like they are a significant part of their communities, as they are more likely to experience “flow” in their activities. They show fewer signs of depression. Grateful teens also tend to feel less envy—something to remember the next time your kids get the “gimmies.”
While you’re eating dinner with your kids, go around the table and share some of the challenging times you’ve gone through in life that you’re also grateful for. What’s especially great about this simple habit is that your kids will inspire you to see things you hadn’t seen before.
In trying to teach our children gratitude, parents have been making the same mistakes for years. Avoid pointing out to our children that they are more blessed than others. That doesn’t teach them to be grateful. When it comes to meals, don’t tell them “you should be grateful for your food, and eat it, kids in other countries are starving”. This won’t work either.
We need to model gratitude ourselves. We must live lives of gratitude if we want our children to really learn to be grateful. That means they need to see us serve others, including writing or emailing thank you notes, saying “please” and “thank you” and showing empathy. That means we need to criticize less, complain less, and point out the positives, not the negative, in people and in situations. This includes our children and spouses. We need to stop complaining about our children and instead tell them how grateful we are for them. We need to show gratitude for adversity too. Remember, children will, for the most part, do what their parents do. That is why gratitude has to start with parents, in our homes.
Parents and grandparents today often give generously to their children without expecting gratitude or reciprocation. I suspect that for our children’s sake we should teach them to feel and express both.
Teach your children well.