Being grateful is more than thank you, but this is usually how we begin to teach our children to be grateful. Teaching them to be grateful is one of the most important things you can ever teach them because it is wiring their brain to be a glass is half full type of person. We all know optimist are happier than pessimists. So, we are literally teaching our children how to be happy.
I discussed the outcomes of being grateful on our own mental health in a guest post. So, why would being grateful not help our children fight against any mental illness that may come their way. In fact, it might even prevent them from ever having a mental illness.
Why should we teach our kids to be grateful?
Remember the phrase you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Well this is truer for our brains then you might think. Your brains are wired to think in a certain way. I know I am programmed to be the “realist” or “pessimist”. This means I always see the bad or expect the bad. I am the glass is half empty. We can fight against our wired brain and change it, but it is not always easy. If we teach our children from the beginning to always see the good and to be an optimist, then their brains will become wired that way. This will bring them more happiness then you can imagine.
How can we teach them to be Grateful?
1. Say Thank you
The best place to start, is teaching them to say thank you. I always teach my little toddlers to say thank you when someone does something for them. This can teach them that someone did do something for them and we need to show them that we appreciated it. I know that sounds like a lot for a toddler. But this is just the beginning and we must start somewhere.
Whenever you give them something, simply tell them to say thank you. Whenever someone else gives them something tell them to say thank you. Don’t worry it won’t come over night but will consistency it will come. Soon they will squeak out a little “tank you”.
2. Through our Example
Our little ones are always watching us. My four-year-old now says dang it and oh my goodness like crazy! Where did he get it from? You guessed it, me. I have to be very careful with what I say around him. So why should we not use this to our advantage. Show them how to be grateful by your example. This means to say thank you, tell people you appreciate them, and even tell them that you are grateful for something they are doing or did.
3. Nightly review
A great nightly routine is to review their day. This build their cognitive skills and now can help you teach them to be grateful. When you are putting them to bed talk to them about their day. Ask what made them happy and what they are grateful for. Don’t worry they won’t have any idea what you are talking about at first but after a while they will.
4. Gratitude chain
A great craft around this time of year can teach your children to be grateful. We all know the count down chain. You cut strips of colored paper and glue them into an interlocking chain. However, this time before you glue the pieces together, talk to them about gratitude and write down one thing they or you are grateful for on each strip.
5. Gratitude game
This is a great game to play on thanksgiving to also teach them about gratitude. Take colored straws and categorize each color. For example, if you pick blue you will say someone you are grateful for. Create about 4 categories. 1. Someone you are grateful for, 2. Something you are grateful for, 3. A place you are grateful for, 4. A food you are grateful for. These are just some ideas you can create any category you want. Next take all the straw into you fist. Hold them about 3 inches from the ground and drop them. The child needs to pull out a straw without moving the others. Whatever color they successfully pull out will direct them to say what they are grateful for.
6. Giving away toys around the holidays
Sometimes our children think that the Holidays are all about getting presents. However, we can turn this around and have them help you pull out some of their old toys (still in good condition) to give away to children who do not have the money to get toys. Talk to them about how fortunate they are and how we need to give back to those who do not have a lot. Plus, it is a great way to purge that toy box!
7. Give them examples
Our children are not going to understand the concept of gratitude. This is because their brains cannot see beyond themselves right now. But if we give them examples of things, we are grateful for or things they could be grateful for, it will help their brains connect the dots and understand the concept of gratitude.
8. Teach them to do chores
This may not sound like a way to teach them to be grateful, but this is one of the best ways! When we give them everything and they do not give back they soon take us and everyone else for advantage. Yes, they become SPOILED! How can we prevent this? Make them do chores. Start them out with little things for their age. For example, my two-year-old will unload the silverware from the dishwasher. Now, he does not do it neatly, but he does do it.
9. Say no
We all need to practice saying no. Because as I just said. The more we give, the more they become spoiled and expect things. This is the exact opposite of being grateful. If we simply say no when they want a toy at the grocery store, then they will be more grateful when they do get one.
10. Send thank you notes
When your child has a birthday, sit down with them and have them send out thank you notes for all the birthday toys they received. It will help them connect the toys to the people and show them that we need to be grateful when others do or buy things for us.
11. Do things for other people
Teach your children to serve others. This may sound harder then it seems. But this can be a fun activity for your child. For example, if someone is sick have them make them a card or bake them cookies. During Christmas time they can help with the baking and have them give away the cookies. It is never too young to teach your child to be kind to others. The more we teach them to think about others the more they see beyond themselves and can be happy with what they have.
12. Be patient
Children are not going to understand how to be grateful overnight. In fact, it won’t happen for years. Be patient with them and continue using these tips to help them. You may just end up with an optimistic child who is happy and grateful for all that you do for them. This will be the best gift you can ever give your child!