Showing Gratitude

When our child demands a toy or refuses to cooperate, it can feel like we’re raising one of the less-appealing characters from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Children’s demands can hit especially hard when we’re working long hours to make ends meet—or just trying to get dinner on the table. We’re also reminded of how much need there is among families in our own communities and around the world. While young children can’t yet see the world from somebody else’s perspective, we can begin to build a sense of gratitude starting in the toddler years.

Here are some ideas on how to model gratitude and create family traditions that focus on values of thankfulness and generosity:

  • Show appreciation to your children. Slow down and observe more closely. You’ll see things you appreciate about your kids—then tell them! Appreciation can be an even more powerful motivator than praise. Sharing appreciation is a strong way to feel connected to one another.
  • Show appreciation for others. Never underestimate the power of your words and actions. Your children are paying attention to the way you treat others, whether it’s friends, neighbors, a teacher, or the cashier at the market. They hear your tone with the salesperson on the phone. You set a great example when you model kindness, generosity, and gratefulness in your own everyday interactions.
  • Use the word “grateful.” Children need to learn what this new word means. Explain that being grateful is noticing something in your life that makes you happy. “I’m grateful that it’s sunny today because it was raining yesterday.” Mention gratitude when you’re doing an everyday pleasant activity, like hanging out at the playground or eating watermelon on a hot day. Pause and say, “I’m so grateful for this day!” or “Wow, this is fun!” Your enthusiasm will be contagious.

Share “Roses and Thorns.” Even young children can talk about what went well (roses) and what was hard about each day (thorns). It gives them, and you too, a chance to vent a frustration and focus on what is good in life.
Fostering feelings of gratitude can transform our outlook on life and help us focus more on the good, than on the negative, news in our lives. But like anything else, gratitude requires practice. Sharing appreciations when we feel them and actively looking for things that make us happy can “retrain” our brains toward these attitudes of gratitude. Being grateful offers a new perspective, one that will help you see the best in your kids,and the world, and will teach them to do the same.

This article was featured in Baby Steps, a ZERO TO THREE newsletter for parents and caregivers.