With Thanksgiving right around corner, it is the perfect time to start teaching your children about Gratitude.
Gratitude can be a tricky thing to teach to little ones. We constantly nudge and repeat things such as “What do you say?” But gratitude is more than just verbally saying thank you. In fact, studies show that there are actually 4 aspects to having and attitude of gratitude.
- The physical aspect: What we NOTICE that we have to be grateful for.
- The reason behind it: What we THINK about why someone did something nice for us.
- The effect it has on us: How it make us FEEL that someone did that.
- The reaction we have to it: What we should now DO to express our appreciation.
Your child will mostly likely not engage in all of the NOTICE-THINK-FEEL-DO (N-T-F-D) aspects right away. Children become more likely to engage in the full aspects of showing gratitude and appreciation between the ages of 11-16 years old.
That doesn’t mean you cannot start teaching your child to recognize and engage in these aspects earlier. Studies show that children can begin to recognize and understand appreciation when they are as young as 11-18 months old. This means that you can teach your child simple ways to start thinking about gratitude before they even speak, by teaching them the sign language for ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Use these signs regularly and they will start to understand that gratitude should be shown. Instilling, the awareness early will only make for a strong foundation for your children to learn and act on their emotion of gratitude.
Keep in mind that your child will not learn gratitude over night. It will take plenty of patience, encouragement, and leading by example. Here are three easy steps to make gratitude a fun and prominent part of your household.
1. Be a grateful adult.
This one is the most simple and sometimes the most difficult. Children with learn by watching what you do and listening to what you say. Make a conscious effort to say thank you whenever possible. Thank your daughter for getting ready for bed. Thank the check out girl for giving you change back. Thank your partner for walking the dog for you. Then make a comment to your child about the N-T-F-D of what just occurred.
“Your father walked the dog for me. (Notice) He must really care about us to do that on a cold day like today. (Think) I am so thankful that he is willing to do that. (Feel) I think I will make him a warm cup of tea and thank him when he gets back. (Do)”
2. Instill a habit of giving back.
Many children do not realize all the many gifts and blessings life has given them. Teaching them to volunteer and give back is a great way to instill a heart of giving and a heart of gratefulness. Seeing others of all walks of life and understanding what people go through to help those people will give your child a better appreciation of how lucky they are.
There are many easy ways to help your child give back:
- Volunteer at a soup kitchen.
- Participate in local Angel Trees.
- Bake cookies for nursing homes.
- Go to the humane society and walk dogs.
- Ring Bells for the Salvation Army at Christmas.
3. Make Gratitude a Game
Make gratitude fun. Come up with easy ways for kids to recognize what they are thankful for and respond in a fun way.
- Make a Thanksgiving Calendar – like an Advent Calendar but each day leading up to Thanksgiving they have a different gratitude challenge.
- Make a token of gratitude for your house. – Keep a wooden heart hanging in a central location. Tell your children that when someone does something nice for them, they should recognize them by moving the heart to their door. Then it’s that child’s turn to use the heart and recognize someone else in the house.
- Make Thank You Cards fun – Keep a box of simple thank you cards along with ribbons, buttons and other fun items for your kids to decorate and make their own before they send them.
Even as adults, we are continually growing and strengthening our attitude of gratitude. By keeping these three steps present in our household we can raise grateful children into thoughtful and giving adults.
Check out these other great resources for ways to incorporate gratitude into your household.