Gratitude and Children

Posted Nov 27, 2019

Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season seems an apt time to think about what it means to be thankful and the role gratitude plays in our lives. A growing body of research indicates that an “attitude of gratitude” has a significant and positive effect on our well-being. A strong sense of gratitude has been linked to lower rates of frustration, materialism, anxiety and depression and higher rates of optimism, compassion, empathy, and engagement with work, school and community. Experiencing and expressing gratitude has also been associated with stronger personal relationships.

These benefits are not limited to adults. Of course, every parent who as has seen their toddler snatch a toy from another child, while yelling “MINE” or listened to their teenager moan “life isn’t fair” (in effect, all parents) know that gratitude isn’t innate. Kids are naturally self-centered. The good news is that “attitude of gratitude” can be developed in children . . . and adults.

First, we must understand that gratitude is a multi-faceted experience that goes beyond a simple thank you.  Researchers at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill have identified four aspects of gratitude.

  • Notice – What in our life inspires feelings of gratitude
  • Think – Our thoughts about what we are grateful for and what they mean in our life
  • Feel – Our emotional response to what we’ve been given
  • Do – How we express our gratitude

Children will demonstrate these aspects in ways that parallel their emotional and cognitive development. A two year old who says thank you for a gift when prompted is at the “DO” level. Three to five year olds are able to talk about their happiness or excitement when Grandpa takes them to the museum. As children grow so will their ability to understand and express feelings of gratitude.

So how do we teach children that giving thanks doesn’t just happen the fourth Thursday in November? There are ways we can foster a growing sense of gratitude in children and ourselves.

  • Lead by Example – Make sure your children see you expressing sincere thanks and showing appreciation for the good things in life on a daily basis.
  • Create a Culture of Kindness and Respect – Insist on politeness and awareness of others’ feelings
  • Take Note – Write down all you have to be grateful for. Create a family gratitude jar, list, journal, or calendar to which each family member contributes.  Send thank you notes to acknowledge the kindness shown to you.
  • Do for Others – Volunteer as a family. Get involved in a cause that is meaningful to your family. Help others in informal ways – bake cookies for a neighbor, shovel a sidewalk, or just visit with someone in need of company.
  • Give experiences, instead of “stuff.” – Too much “stuff” builds a sense of entitlement and diminishes appreciation for what we have. Sharing experiences build bonds.
  • Go Beyond the Here and Now – Learn about every day life in other cultures. Explore your family’s past or visit a history museum. Learning about the struggles of others can lead to appreciation of our own situations.
  • Talk About It – Find a time to talk about the positives in your day or life. Ask your children questions that develop the four aspects of gratitude.

While being grateful doesn’t ensure a trouble free existence, it does create a sense of contentment and resiliency.

Read more about the benefits of gratitude and ways to nurture it in children,

12 Tips for Teaching Children Gratitude

What Parents Neglect To Teach About Gratitude

Seven Ways to Foster Gratitude in Kids


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