Thanksgiving week brings the concept of gratitude to the forefront, but it’s a feeling that most parents would like to see more often in their kids throughout the year.
Not only does a feeling of thankfulness please parents, it’s good for the kids. Jeffrey Froh, PsyD, an assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University, studied the impact of gratitude on more than 200 middle school students and reported his finding in “Counting blessings in early adolescents: an experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being” which was published in the Journal of School Psychology.
Of those who wrote down five things they were grateful for each day for two weeks had higher levels of optimism, increased life satisfaction, and decreased negative feelings were all associated with students’ expressions of gratitude. Even three weeks after they had stopped writing items down, the group of kids that expressed gratitude was more grateful than the group that did not.
“I don’t mean to suggest that counting their blessings for two weeks will cause adolescents to stock up on thank you cards; I think becoming a grateful person takes a prolonged, consistent effort. But the time to start practicing gratitude is when you’re young,” Dr. Froh wrote in Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life.
Teaching gratitude starts with parents displaying gratitude. Dr. David Sack wrote in the Huffington Post, “When interacting with your kids, share frequently and generously and say please and thank you so that good manners are ‘what we do’ not just what we say we do.”
Children learn gratitude best by watching their parents show gratitude, according to the folks at the BYU David O. McKay School of Education.
Experts say that means parents need to be expressing gratitude more than once a year. Going around the Thanksgiving table and having each person say what they are grateful for is a great start, but why not do it the day after Thanksgiving? Make it a point to do it every night of the long holiday weekend.
There are a number of ways for parents to teach kids gratitude:
- Verbally, be it both saying thank you to family members and other you encounter in your daily life as well as stating aloud in front of your child reasons you are grateful on a given day at either dinner or bedtime.
- Written gratitude can take several forms, be it a list posted somewhere visible to all family members, writing in a gratitude journal when kids can see you or writing a thank you note.
- Volunteering. It may take more than one trip before the act of services has the desired impact. Ginny Grave wrote about teaching her kids gratitude for Family Circle and she found that it took several times volunteering at the homeless shelter for her adolescent sons to feel not scared.
- Focus on what you have. The holidays are often more about what we are getting, and not so much about what we already have. Parents can shift the focus, both by expressing gratitude for what you have and by setting limits on what kids have. “Having too much squelches appreciation. So fight the tendency to overindulge your child these new weeks with too many things,” writes Dr. Michele Borba, parenting expert. “Always giving kids what they want does not help kids learn to be grateful and appreciative of what they have.”
This just scratches the surface. What are your favorite ways to show gratitude, as a parent or as a family?
Get 5 more ways to cultivate gratitude in your child here.
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