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.
What is gratitude?
Gratitude is about acknowledging and recognizing 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 a pet dog. It can also include being grateful for where we live, the opportunities given to us. However, gratitude is not something children automatically feel; it needs to be nurtured and taught with real world examples.
Why is gratitude good for kids?
Teaching gratitude to kids can have several benefits:
Improved mental health. Studies on adults have found that those who develop a positive and more grateful outlook on life report higher levels of happiness, resilience and emotional well-being. This is something to work with your kids.
A happier disposition. Another 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 adults who are generally more grateful gave more money to a cause,
A willingness to express gratitude more openly. Harvard's study showed greater sensitivity in the brain area associated with learning and decision-making. Suggesting that adults who are more grateful also express gratitude to others more often. Another tactic to work with your family on.
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 practice gratitude have lower stress levels, 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 recognize 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 on a family day out, 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 thoughtful 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 household chores (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. You could also 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 for you and being sure you let them know you’re 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 to 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 Grandma for looking after you and cooking us dinner.”
Help kids to feel grateful even in tough times
Help them find the good in bad situations. For example, you can’t afford a vacation this year. But there are so many activities you can plan to make summer fun without leaving the state or the country.
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.
A gratitude collection. Get your kids to collect and list items they’re grateful for, such as a flower they like looking at, a noise that makes them happy, a color 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 grandma/cousin/sister because of Y,
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 neighbor, 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 soccer at recess, 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 instill the importance of giving back and can encourage children to be grateful for what they have.
Small donations can make a big difference. Using the app's giving feature, our GoHenry community has raised over $30K for the Boys and Girls Club of America (BGCA) in 2022.