By Jana Pritchett, Communications Manager -November 17, 2020-

Even though this year may be a little bit different, as Thanksgiving nears many of us are focused on holiday traditions – eating turkey and pumpkin pie, celebrating with family, and shopping on Black Friday.  However, as we gather around the table, it’s also a great time to give thanks and model an “attitude of gratitude” for the children in our midst.

Children are not born grateful.  According to author Mary Jane Ryan, Recognizing that someone has gone out of their way for you is not a natural behavior for children – it’s learned.”  If you have spent much time around toddlers, you know that they are self-centered by nature.  Studies have shown, however, that children as young as 15-18 months can begin to understand concepts that lead to gratitude.

Teaching young children to be grateful is not easy but can help them later in life.  A 2003 study at the University of California at Davis showed that grateful people report higher levels of optimism and happiness – along with lower levels of depression and stress.  Grateful kids have learned to look beyond themselves and understand that other people do things for them – wash their clothes, give them hugs, and prepare their food. 

On the other hand, according to Barbara Lewis, author of What Do You Stand For? For Kids, “Kids who aren’t taught to be grateful end up feeling entitled and perpetually disappointed.”  According to Robert Emmons, research also shows that youth who are ungrateful are more likely to abuse substances, have poor eating habits and display low academic performance.

So how can we teach our children the power of gratitude in their own lives?

  1.  Model it.  Children model their parents in every way, so remember to use “please” and “thank you” when you talk to them (“Thank you for the hug.”).  Good manners and gratitude go hand-in-hand. 
  2. Work gratitude into your daily life.  Spend some time at the dinner table listing things you are grateful for.  Keep a “gratitude journal” handy for older kids, or help younger ones write a grateful sticky note to put on the refrigerator.  Keep a thank-you note basket handy and help children write notes for gifts or acts of service. 
  3. Say no sometimes.  It seems like some days kids are asking hourly for candy, toys, or video game time. It is impossible for them to feel grateful when their every wish is granted.  Saying no sometimes makes saying yes that much sweeter.
  4. Encourage generosity.  Teach them that there are others less fortunate.  Donate a new toy, give used clothes to charity or adopt a family in need.  Emphasize that although they may have outgrown something, it may meet another child’s needs. 
  5. Find a mission project.  Once the pandemic is over, older children can volunteer or participate in mission trips.  Actively helping someone in need inspires thankfulness for your own blessings.  After seeing a hungry family while serving at a soup kitchen, a child may be more appreciative of the food at their own table.   
  6. Downplay gifts during the holidays.  Put more emphasis on celebrating and establishing traditions – making cookies, attending worship, visiting family. If you adopt a family for the holidays, shop for online gifts with your kids or have them create something handmade.  Consider putting half of your child’s gifts away after the holidays to bring out as rainy day surprises throughout the year. 

Teaching gratitude requires patience.  It doesn’t develop overnight but takes many months and years of reinforcement. You will be rewarded, however. Teaching your child to be grateful will help them enjoy making others happy and can lead to a fulfilling, optimistic life.