Teaching kids gratitude – here’s how
- Children from as young as five may start to connect gratitude with happiness.
- Grateful teens may be more satisfied and optimistic about life.
- Start a dinner-time family gratitude ritual where the kids and you both have an opportunity to talk about both the “good” and “bad” parts of their day.
“And what do we say to Grandma when she gives you a present?” you ask your eight-year-old while silently willing them to say thank you.
Sound familiar? Teaching your kids manners is one thing, but how can we teach them to truly feel grateful for the good things in their lives?
Conscious Parenting Coach and Emotional Intelligence Trainer Anna Davis shares some creative ways to foster gratitude in kids (instead of just the usual advice to buy gratitude journals for kids).
But first, let’s explore the benefits of gratitude practices for kids.
The benefits of gratitude for kids
Recently, researchers reviewed the scientific literature on gratitude. The results of their review suggest that gratitude may have positive benefits for adults on their wellbeing, happiness and life satisfaction.
However, very little research has been done on the benefits of practising gratitude for kids. Nevertheless, the initial research suggests:
- there may be a link between gratitude and happiness in children by the age of five
- kids who have a better early understanding of emotions and mental states at ages three and four may understand more about gratitude by age five
- gratitude positively impacts preschool children’s sharing and helping behaviours
- when parents actively fostered gratitude with their kids (ages 6-9) daily, their children demonstrated gratitude more often
- teenagers (ages 14-19) with higher levels of gratitude also scored highly for positivity and life satisfaction measures
- older children and teenagers (ages 10-14) who feel more gratitude are more likely to help others and society as a whole for the greater good
- grateful teenagers (ages 14-19) tended to have better results in school and scored more highly on life satisfaction than those who were less grateful
Creative gratitude activities for kids
Try these beautiful and unique ways to help you and your kids enjoy practising gratitude together.
Start a dinner-time family gratitude ritual
As a parenting coach, Anna recommends starting a family gratitude ritual while having dinner.
“It’s a great time because you’re all already sitting together and it won’t feel like you’re making your kids do another one of your mindfulness activities,” she says with a laugh.
To participate, each family member should answer these four questions:
- What was the best part of your day?
- What was the worst part of your day?
- What was a moment you were compassionate to yourself, someone else, a plant or an animal?
- What mistakes did you make today?
Anna says these questions are designed to help get children to talk about all of their day and appreciate the wonderful things while accepting the unpleasant things that happen in their lives.
“The best way to teach children gratitude is to stop protecting them from the upsetting, unhappy, uncomfortable or painful experiences they have throughout their days. Start talking about the “good” and “bad” experiences they have,” she explains.
As a result, Anna says children may start to feel, understand, accept and process the difference between these experiences.
They may also develop an intrinsic understanding of gratitude rather than inauthentic forced gratitude.
Gratitude scavenger hunts
Encourage your kids to notice the things in their life that they’re grateful for in a gratitude scavenger hunt. Print this free, online ‘Gratitude Search’ activity prompt designed by the Harvard Graduate School of Education to teach kids about gratitude.
Using the prompts, ask your kids to look for a person or thing that inspires gratitude. To help develop their understanding, talk to them about your own experiences of gratitude.
You could add this activity onto your family or kids’ routine charts to remind yourselves to practice gratitude more often.
Get crafty with gratitude
Pull out the crayons and safety scissors! Crafting with your kids is a fun way to practice gratitude. You could:
- design thank you cards for the important people in your lives – try adding some gratitude quotes for kids on the cards to make them even more special
- create a ‘gratitude tree’ by drawing an outline of a tree on a large piece of paper and adding ‘leaves’ listing what you’re grateful for
- paint or decorate a glass jar together and ask each family member to write or draw what makes them feel grateful before adding it into the jar
Building gratitude for life
Try some of the creative gratitude activities above to help your kids enjoy practising gratitude while building a foundation of thankfulness that they can draw on throughout their lives.
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Anna Davis is a Conscious Parenting Coach and EQ Trainer who arms parents with the tools they need to cultivate deeper connection, lower stress levels and create calm in their households.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board September 2021.