| What is Gratitude | Why Is It Important | Benefits Of Gratitude | How To Teach Your Child Gratitude | Activities That Foster Gratitude |
Gratitude is an important virtue that benefits the community, families, relationships, and individuals.
The virtue of feeling and expressing gratitude has long been regarded as a virtue of character.
Having a sense of gratitude is a quality that many parents want to cultivate in their children.
What is Gratitude?
Gratitude is a focus on seeing the positive aspects of life. It means noticing the goodness in life. Instead of focusing on what you lack or comparing yourself to others, you feel thankful for what you have. It is also an emotion we feel toward others’ generosity when they help us or do something kind for us1.
In psychology, gratitude can be defined in several different ways.
Some people experience it as an emotion, such as joy or sadness.
Others interpret it as a positive mindset or thinking.
Yet some people focus on the grateful behavior that involves saying thanks.2
In general, gratitude represents one’s willingness to recognize that they have been the beneficiary of someone’s kindness3.
Why is Gratitude Important?
Gratitude involves being grateful, acknowledging the positive things we have been given, and showing appreciation.
Having an attitude of gratitude can transform our approach to life.
Decades of research have shown the importance of gratitude and its positive impact on our psychological and social well-being.
Benefits of Gratitude
Mental health benefits
Research has found that grateful people tend to achieve higher levels of happiness, life satisfaction, and mental health over time.
Gratefulness is associated with lower rates of mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression, and suicide ideation4.
High school students with more gratitude experience higher optimism, less envy, and fewer depressive symptoms5.
High school students who showed higher levels of gratefulness tended to be more committed to the school6.
They also tend to have better grades and a higher level of school satisfaction.
Relationships and Social Life
When people are focused on noticing the positive, they appreciate acts of kindness and support received from others.
Gratitude is associated with how people form and maintain strong relationships7 and how they view friends and family support8.
Having a grateful heart inspires people to take notice of the help they receive from their social circle. It may also prompt a more forgiving attitude toward others which benefits personal relationships9.
Grateful teens tend to be more optimistic and show more prosocial behaviors10.
Their gratitude has been shown to predict healthier relationships and help adolescents feel that they are part of a friend network with social support.
How To Teach Your Child Gratitude
Is being grateful something teachable?
Gratefulness inherently requires a certain level of social awareness.
For a child to feel grateful or express gratitude, they must understand a bit about the social dynamics at play.
This involves understanding the intentions or thoughts of another person.
In younger children, these skills (known as the theory of mind) generally do not emerge until they start developing the prefrontal cortex in the brain around the age of 411.
This is not to say that we cannot try to foster gratitude in our children earlier, but our efforts will be more fruitful with older children who have gained a better understanding of other people’s intentions.
Parents often coach their children on the outward signs of appreciation, such as saying “thank you” when receiving gifts.
While these good manners can be helpful and socially expected, there is more to gratitude than saying the words.
For these manners to feel meaningful and not just empty words, children must recognize and understand the feelings of gratitude12.
Here are the five steps to teaching gratitude to our children.
The cultivation of gratitude starts with awareness.
Young children learn to recognize the receipt of a gift or action given by another person.
Encourage children to notice the grateful moments when another person does something for them or gives them a gift.
Children learn about why the other person has given them a gift.
Point out that the gift-giver remembers their birthday or another reason for giving them a gift.
You can discuss how the person has given the gift (or kind action) because they are intentionally thinking about them. That’s also teaching children empathy.
Help young children recognize the positive feelings they experience and that they result from the giver’s kind behavior.
The combination of attribution and emotion helps kids understand the meaning of the gift.
When children realize these good feelings, they experience gratitude towards the giver.
Children learn to express gratitude through behavior and practice.
Expression of gratitude can be done in lots of ways. It can be through conversations, thank-you notes, giving a hug, or using other thoughtful gestures are practical ways to express appreciation.
Help your child practice gratitude through action.
Children learn from the adults in their lives. They watch everything their parents do.
Parents are the most influential teachers to them.
Researchers have found that grateful parents tend to have grateful kids.
Special training is not required. Modeling being thankful in daily life is a great way to foster thoughtfulness in our children, even at young ages.
Show gratitude in front of your child, not only to others but also to your child.
Be a role model.
For example, when our young kids put away the toys, help us with chores, or show us love and respect, model gratitude by recognizing their effort. As a parent, thanking them rather than taking them for granted goes a long way in teaching the meaning of gratefulness.
Activities That Foster Gratitude
Here are some additional activities for parents who are looking for more ways to help their children develop a sense of gratitude.
While research on these types of gratitude practices is promising, evidence is still limited, and scholars hesitate to make sweeping conclusions about their effectiveness.
Even so, these gratitude activities are great for bonding and aiding children in their understanding of being grateful.
Add the family gratitude journal to children’s daily routines.
One common activity used to help individuals focus on thankfulness is the journaling or listing process. Each day, the person is encouraged to list several good things for which they are grateful.
Daily gratitude journaling has been shown to reduce anxiety and increase optimism significantly13.
Additionally, when used in schools, the listing activity was associated with better attitudes toward school among students. Students who completed these thankfulness lists felt better about their school experience14.
Gratitude letter writing
Writing a letter of gratitude to someone who has given a gift or done a kind action is another activity that can cultivate appreciation.
In gratitude interventions, researchers found that gratitude letter writers were happier, even two months following activity15.
Final Thoughts on Teaching Your Child Gratitude
Teaching children to look for the positive and to be thankful for what they have can open a window to a more positive outlook on life. It will serve them well throughout all stages of their lives.
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