We all want our kids to feel grateful and show gratitude, but doing so is about more than a simple thank you. Here’s how to teach appreciation in a way that sticks.
Related: Life skills for kids
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is about acknowledging and recognising all the good things we have in our lives, regardless of how big or small they may be. This can include feeling grateful for our family, jobs, teachers, best friends and even our pet dog. It can also include being grateful for where we live, the opportunities given to us and the fact that we don’t have to worry about the basics like food and shelter. However, gratitude is not something children can feel automatically; it needs to be nurtured and taught.
Why is gratitude good for kids?
Teaching gratitude to kids can have several benefits for kids.
Improved mental health. Studies have found that those who develop a positive and more grateful outlook on life report higher levels of happiness, resilience and emotional well-being.
A happier disposition. A study in the Journal of Happiness found that gratitude is linked to happiness in children by age 5. This means that instilling gratitude in your kids at a young age helps them to grow up to be happier people,
A greater desire to help those less fortunate. A study from Berkeley found that people who are generally more grateful gave more money to a cause,
A willingness to express gratitude more openly. The same study showed greater sensitivity in the brain area associated with learning and decision-making. Showing that people who are more grateful also express gratitude to others more often.
Better relationships and friendships. Another set of studies shows that gratitude can help to build and develop stronger relationships and friendships. The researchers found that those who feel grateful for their friends or significant other do more to maintain their bonds.
Better physical health. Research has shown that people who practise gratitude have lower levels of stress, better sleep and a stronger immune system.
Enhanced decision-making: Gratitude can help children make more informed decisions by encouraging them to consider the impact of their actions on others and the world around them.
How to teach gratitude to children
Encourage children to recognise things they should be grateful for
Highlight these things to your kids and ask them to consider how they make them feel and ways of expressing appreciation for it. Try this on birthdays when friends buy them gifts, when you’re out having a lovely day in the park or just laughing with your kids while watching a movie.
Lead by example
All children learn from what they see and experience, so make sure you demonstrate gratitude in your everyday life. Show appreciation to your kids when they do something funny or nice, and openly say you are thankful for having them.
Ask them to contribute to family chores
A poll has found that to help their child learn to show gratitude, many parents have their child do chores to help the family (60% regularly and 34% occasionally). Having children help in this way is a good way of explaining that everyone in the family has a responsibility to do their bit and then point out how family members contribute to the household in different ways.
Encourage expressing gratitude
Not just saying “thank you” and writing thank-you notes, but smiling and acknowledging anyone who does something nice for you and being sure you let them know you are grateful.
Volunteer and give back
Participating in volunteer activities and charitable giving can help children understand the importance of being grateful for what they have and how helping others can bring happiness to both the giver and the receiver.
Help them build relationships they are grateful for
Help children form strong relationships by encouraging them to express appreciation for their friends, family, and teachers. Show them how expressing gratitude can help build strong, positive relationships with others.
Explain when you say thank you
Teaching children to be polite isn’t the same as teaching them gratitude. When you remind a child to say thank you, give them a brief explanation of why you’re asking. For example, “Let’s say thank you to granny for looking after you and cooking us dinner.”
Help kids to feel grateful even in tough times
This isn’t about saying cheer up; things could be worse, but about helping them to find the good part of bad situations. For example, you can’t go on holiday because you haven’t got enough money this year, but they will still have six weeks off school, and you can do an array of amazing things if you start planning now.
Fun activities to teach gratitude to kids
A gratitude jar. Every evening everyone in the house adds a note saying what they were grateful for that day.
Start a gratitude journal. Buy a notebook for your child to write down the things they are grateful for daily.
Have a gratitude scavenger hunt. Your children have to list items they are grateful for, such as a flower they like looking at, a noise that makes them happy, a colour that brightens their day, and a pet they love.
Create gratitude cards your children can give to people. They could say things like I’m grateful you are my friend because of X, or I’m thankful you are my granny/cousin/sister because of Y and then give the cards to people.
Sign up for volunteer work: Participate in volunteer activities as a family to help others and give back to your community. This can help children understand the importance of helping others while being grateful for what they have in life.
Talk about acts of kindness: Encourage children to perform acts of kindness for others, such as helping a neighbour, donating to a charity, or making a card for someone who is sick. This can help children understand the positive impact they can have on others in less fortunate situations.
Encourage your kids to donate to areas they are passionate about. Helping earthquake victims, climate concerns, children in need and endangered animals can encourage kids to feel grateful that they are in a position to help.
Before bed, have a thankful game where you talk about two things you were grateful for that day. It could be that the day was warm, you played football at lunch, or your best friend made you laugh.
How can GoHenry help?
GoHenry is a prepaid debit card for kids that can be used to teach gratitude by setting limits on spending and encouraging kids to save their money for things they really want or need. By setting savings goals and seeing their progress towards them, children learn the value of money, and they can also set aside a portion of their money for charitable giving. This helps instil the importance of giving back and can encourage children to be grateful for what they have. Small donations can make a big difference: £425,000 has already been donated by GoHenry kids to the NSPCC