When you were little did your mom make you sit down and write Thank You notes to your Grandma and Grandpa? Maybe to your Auntie?
I remember helping my son write cards after his birthday. He’d squeeze all his words into a couple of sentences in the upper corner, leaving the rest of the letter or card empty but he got it done.
While some may think an email or verbal thank you is enough, it really doesn’t hurt to take it that one step further. What a child doesn’t understand is that someone went to some effort to send a gift and that needs to be acknowledged with some effort back. It doesn’t take much but when received at the other end it is huge.
Children and Gratitude
Make sure you read all the way to the end so you can see the Four Ways to Help Nurture Gratitude–this is for you and your kids.
What is Gratitude?
As per Merriam-Webster Dictionary the definition is rather simple.
grat·i·tude | \ ˈgra-tə-ˌtüd , -ˌtyüd \
Definition of gratitude
: the state of being grateful: THANKFULNESSexpressed gratitude for their support
You’d think the act of being grateful, or thankful, is simple, but if it’s never taught or discussed, how can we be so sure the kids are actually grasping the concept?
It’s common when kids are little that moms and dads make them say thank-you for something they’ve received. Right now I bet this conversation is happening in a kitchen somewhere in the world.
Three Year Old: Granny can I have a cookie?
Granny: What’s the magic word?
Three Year Old: Peeeezzzz –jumping up and down pleased with the fact that they know the magic word!
Granny: Good for you. Here’s your cookie.
Three Year Old: Runs to mom and dad… I have a cookie.
Mom/Dad: Did you say Thank you to Grandma?
Three Year old: Runs back to Grandma. Thank you Grandma.
Does any of that sound familiar? There’s probably a hug or two involved from Grandma but the fact of the matter is that “Thank You” or Gratitude isn’t always automatic and we need to remind our kids constantly.
Little kids need a reminder but it should become a way of life to say thank you and appreciate the actions of others.
Why is It So Important to Show Gratitude?
First and foremost, being thankful, feels good. It’s a positive thing and calming as it is an acknowledgment of something someone else has done for us.
It shows other people you care about them in a way beyond material things. This is huge as it’s a step beyond the automatic “thank you” you say to the clerk at the grocery store, to a real connection of feeling and empathy.
Here is a letter that nine year old Olivia wrote to her Auntie Katie. In this letter, Olivia is referring to a birthday that happened four years before.
So, think about that for a minute. Olivia is now nine but she’s referring to her fifth birthday. That means that particular incident of her Auntie Katie taking her on an adventure happened a long time ago. I find that so lovely because, consciously or unconsciously, Olivia has been grateful for that time with her Auntie. It was something that while she may not have been able to put into words–she felt!
I love that she wrote this letter (which was shared to me by her Auntie Katie) because it perfectly illustrates the understanding of gratitude and how deeply it is felt at any age.
Four Ways to Help Nurture Gratitude
–1– Use the Language of Gratitude Yourself: This is all about modeling behavior for young people. Kids live what they learn and absorb your words. Be grateful for the things around you and model that for your kids. This is about being positive but realistic. Teach your kids the words: Thankful. Appreciation. Abundance. Gracious. Acknowledgement. Recognition. Grace. Blessed. Positive. Acceptance.
–2– Do a Family Gratitude Journal: Every night before bed, every family member lists one thing that they were grateful for that day. This is a family project to build gratitude because when you know you’re going to be asked later in the day “what are you grateful for today?” you’ll think more about it and be more aware. If you can’t do it daily. Then make it the Weekly Family Gratitude Journal. Chances are, if the adult is too busy or tired, the kids will remember–probably right at bedtime–and remind you.
–3– Break the expectation of always getting what you want. When a kid gets everything they want all the time, perspective gets lost. There’s no balance in the world. Kids do need, and actually seek, boundaries. It’s okay to say no–it really is. A parents does not have to constantly give, give, give–it’s unhealthy on both sides. Have the child earn it themselves or go without for now.
–4– Become Part of the Community: This can look like volunteering within the greater community where you live or for an organization that helps people. It may take place at school where the kids help with a club at school that helps others in some way. By joining and becoming a member of something bigger than yourself it can enhance global understanding, empathy, and gratitude.
Have a Chat About Gratitude and What it Means to You
Kid are so smart and they want to help and be a part of their parents lives too. Be honest with them and let them know what you think, how hard you’ve worked, and what you’d like to see for them. Ask them what they think. What would they change in the world? in their school? at home?
This isn’t meant to build stress or expectation but for the kids to see that you’re in it together. Staying on the side of positive and gracious will take you further in the long run than negativity and stress.
Get that Family Gratitude Journal Going…
What Gratitude Isn’t…
To be grateful for something comes from within. It takes time and dedication to teach children a sense of gratitude but it’s still all theirs.
It’s not something to be bartered or coerced. That’s not fair.
I don’t want to hear things like: If you were grateful then you’d do a, b, and c. That type of talk is manipulative and negative–not okay.
Gratitude is not automatic and shouldn’t be an expectation. It is a “state of being” which means it’s from inside a person. It’s easy to say the words but another to feel them like Olivia did in the letter above.
Never Give Up on Gratitude
Kids are smart. They’ll get it. Give them the gift of gratitude when they’re young.
Gratitude is within us all to embrace and share if we choose. As we become more aware of the positive things in our life, a lightness can occur. There is such abundance in this world and if you have any of it at your hand, gratitude should follow.
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