Gratitude has the power to change perspective. It has the potential to help you feel happier, improve your health, soak up wonderful experiences, and build stronger relationships with others. When we actively practice gratitude, we interrupt cyclic negative thinking, thoughts of fear, and judgmental self-talk.
Gratitude plays a significant role in an individual’s overall well-being, which means it is a critical component in early childhood development. According to research published in the Journal of School Psychology, grateful children reported to have more satisfaction in school, families, communities, and friends. These same children reported providing more social support for their peers, as well.
Gratitude is a learned behavior. So, how best can we exemplify and teach it to our children?
Establishing A Routine For Gratitude
Routines, or rituals, dedicated to practicing and expressing gratitude can help normalize a thankful attitude. You can do this by creating projects or events to do or work on each week together. A few examples of this include a family project like a gratitude jar. Children are encouraged to contribute to this jar each week, listing a few things that they felt grateful for or appreciative. Alternatively, gratitude walks can be both a great form of exercise and an opportunity to explore and express gratitude for the world around you.
One of the most important aspects of encouraging gratitude in young children is modeling the desired behavior for them. Children tend to model human behavior around them to begin with. You can model thankfulness by turning complaints into compliments – when you are about to say something negative, try to flip it into something positive. Instead of, “The house is so messy! Ugh, I wish I lived in a clean home, but I don’t”, change the narrative. You live in a beautiful home – how about we celebrate it by tidying up and lighting our favorite candles? Say out loud how thankful you are for the house you all get to share and grow in. Try to search for the good in every situation; flip any negative perspectives and find the positive outlook, or the silver lining. And finally, model saying please and thank you to your child and in front of your child.
Reading Books on Gratitude and Thankfulness
Reading books is not only a great way to spend quality time with your child, but it is a great and easy way to explore values, beliefs, and ideas! There are many books to choose from to explore the idea of gratitude and thankfulness. A few books on this topic include, “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein and “Mouse & Lion” by Rand Burkett. These classic children’s books offer lessons on gratitude – being content with what you are given. Both books also offer lessons on unlikely friendships and “weathering the storm” together.
Writing Thank You Notes
Thank you notes are not often received, but always appreciated. While creating handmade thank you notes for loved ones, bus drivers, or teachers, make sure to explain the benefits of saying “thank you”: how does this impact the receiving party? This is also an opportunity to explain empathy to young children: how will this make the receiver feel? These notes can be as long or as short as each child would like it to be – but it is important that they create a card that is unique to them!
Another great way to explore thankfulness and gratitude is to practice donating. You can introduce this concept through donating old toys and clothes that your child no longer fits into, wears, or plays with. You can explain this concept by stating that another child would like to use what your child no longer wants or needs, expressing the idea that they will be sharing with a child in need.
You can also choose to donate to a charity of your choice together, or include your child further by letting them pick from a few charities. This should be a fulfilling family event together!
It is no question that practicing gratitude daily is beneficial to a families’ physical and mental well-being. It’s also important to find a childcare program that places value in teaching gratitude, thankfulness, and kindness.
Here at the Nest Schools, we discuss this theme across all age groups. Our Pelicans group discusses “Gratitude and Mindfulness” in their “Big Life Journal” discussions, breaking down what it means to have or show gratitude through journal activities and dialogue.
Other class activities involve our “thankful walks” or “gratitude walks” that involve active walking either indoors or outdoors with their peers, while discussing what they are grateful for from their world around them!
No matter where you are in the world, you can always find at least one reason to be grateful!