Children don’t exactly arrive knowing how to express gratitude. Their default mode is “me, me, me!” That doesn’t make them bad or selfish; it just makes them untaught.
Teaching children gratitude is about much more than simply getting them to say, “thank you.” It’s about opening their eyes to the world around them instead of letting them concentrate solely on themselves. It’s about training them to recognize how other people play a role in their life and appreciating the effort they put forth. It’s about teaching them the enjoyment of simple pleasures, and that it means more to share that enjoyment than to experience it alone.
Try these five techniques for instilling gratitude in your own child.
Set an Example
Children watch everything you do, even when they don’t seem to be paying any attention at all. This creates a perfect opportunity to express gratitude and appreciation yourself. Say things like, “We’re lucky we have this warm house when it’s so cold outside!” or “Isn’t it nice to have a friend like Frank?” or “Doesn’t the sunset look beautiful? It makes me happy to see it!” Show appreciation when your child does something you ask him to do.
Banish that old-fashioned idea of kids obeying you “because you said so.” You’re not a tyrant. Tell them thank you! Give them lots of hugs and kisses, and be specific about what behavior made you happy: “Thank you so much for helping me clean! You made the work easier and I’m glad you did!”
Make Time for Nature
We love our children and it’s natural to want to indulge them. But buying toy after toy in a quest for happiness only leads to mounting frustration. Instead, set aside time for you and your child to enjoy simple things. Make an evening walk part of your routine, for example. Point out things you find beautiful: the clouds, the sunlight on the trees, the birds, flowers, homes. Cook together and take the time to smell each herb and spice.
Garden together and watch the plants grow from tiny buds to ripe vegetables, fruits or flowers. Take them to a petting zoo or nearby farm where the two of you can pet the animals and watch them play. Cultivating a genuine appreciation for nature and simple pleasures takes your child’s focus off himself and develops curiosity, interest and a desire to interact with the world around them.
Talk About What Goes on Behind the Scenes
Teach your little one to never take anything for granted by giving them an idea of all the effort that goes into the things they have. Take a gallon of milk, for example: a cow produced the milk; a farmer milked the cow; someone prepared the milk for transportation; someone packaged the milk; someone brought the milk to the store; someone at the store put the milk on the shelf; and you bought the milk.
Without going into exhaustive detail, let them know that nothing magically appears. Even a glass of milk is the result of many people working together to create something.
Do Something for Others
Even though children are initially wired to think of themselves first, they get a lot of joy out of doing things for others. Steer your child in this healthy direction by routinely doing things for others and letting them help. Make soup for a sick neighbor. Let them help choose which toys to buy to donate to a local shelter. Do chores for an elderly relative. While you’re both busy, take a moment to mention that what they’re doing with you is helping someone else. Tell them how much they’ll appreciate their efforts.
Give Them a Chance to Express Themselves
Set aside time each day to briefly mention what you’re grateful for. Dinner or bath time are great times to talk. Lead the way by mentioning some things you’re grateful for but give your child a chance to say what they’re grateful for as well. Giving them a chance to vocalize what they appreciate in their lives prompts thoughtfulness and awareness. The more often you participate in this little ritual, the more indelibly you make mindful gratitude a habit.
Teaching your child gratitude will take time, patience and plenty of loving guidance, but it’s well worth the effort. Pretty soon, you’ll have one more wonderful thing to be grateful for yourself: an appreciative child.
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