I remember walking into my bedroom one day after school to discover a brand new pair of aqua coloured jeans on my bed. I was so excited and grateful for those jeans as I had recently admired them in a shop but would never have asked my mum if I could have them. They were the latest trend and I knew we couldn’t afford them, but here they were, on my bed!
I almost knocked my mother over as I ran into her arms. I knew what sort of sacrifice she would have made to get them for me, so these were a very special gift that left a warm, vivid memory.
This is the sort of gratitude I hope my children feel when they are lucky enough to get something they’ve been wishing for. But it’s not just things I want them to appreciate, but their circumstances, their happiness, their friendships and all the ordinary things that surround them every day.
In a world where most children have all they could ever need, it can be difficult to teach them to be grateful. So how do you go about instilling a value that seems almost lost in our world of plenty?
Why Is Gratitude Important
Christine Carter is a sociologist from Greater Good Science Centre and a huge advocate for teaching gratitude. She shares some wisdom on why gratitude is important and how to help parents and teachers foster an attitude of gratitude.
We Are All Teachers
It’s much easier more meaningful to teach kids things we model ourselves. Little things like a heartfelt thank you, giving someone a hug or paying a compliment, make quite an impact as our children pick up on and emulate a lot more than we give them credit for. Be sure to talk about the good things that happen in your day and why you’re grateful for certain things in your life. If kids see and hear it from influential adults, the lessons are much more likely to stick.
Start With Manners
One of the simplest ways of showing our gratitude is good old fashioned manners. Please and thank you go a very long way and encourage kids to reflect on the “value” of what they’ve received. Ask your children to think about it before they thank someone and to look the person in the eye and say it with meaning.
When your child does well at school or wins a race, remind them of the people who have helped them get there. If their success is the result of a team effort, talk about the important roles their friends had and ask them to acknowledge and thank them.
Tell Them What You Love About Them
Of course, we all show our kids we love them when we smother them with hugs and kisses, but how often do we specifically tell them what we love about them? Verbalizing how much we appreciate them, not only boosts their self-esteem but is also a great example that not all gifts are materialistic. The gift of time and love is far more important than the gifts we pay for.
Talk About The Past
There’s nothing better than asking granny to talk about her life as a child. Hearing their grandparents describe their outdoor toilet, how they had to walk for miles to get to school, the tin cans and rope they used for stilts or how little they had at dinner time, shows children just how lucky they are to be born in such an abundant time.
Find Gratitude in Adversity
It’s important for children to learn that gratitude isn’t just reserved for the good times in their life. Use times of misfortune, like a car accident, to show how much worse things could be and how lucky we are. If the weather’s poor when they want to go outside, point out that it gives them an opportunity to do other fun things they may otherwise have missed out on.
Stop Giving Them Everything
We know you love them, but giving your children everything they want isn’t really an expression of love. Consistently receiving privileges or gifts when it’s not a special occasion and without any effort of their own, may result in spoiled kids with entitled attitudes. If they’re not used to going without occasionally or having to work for it themselves, they can feel quite hard done by when things don’t go their way.
Activities To Foster an Attitude of Gratitude In The Home and Classroom
Writing a note of thanks for someone’s help is a wonderful way for children to reflect on the reasons they’re grateful to that person and how they have helped them. Apart from showing their appreciation, these little notes become treasures for parents, teachers, grandparents, coaches, doctors, etc.
This is a terrific activity for students at Mother’s or Father’s Day, or any time of the year as a special surprise.
Count Your Blessings
Get into the habit of spending a few minutes in the classroom or around the dinner table chatting about the good things that kids have experienced that day. Children may talk about being grateful that their dog is better, that they’re looking forward to their friend coming over for a sleepover or how much they loved the desert their mum made. Try to discourage material things like toys or electronic devices as it’s the more emotional things you want them to appreciate.
Family or Class Gratitude Book
Create a book to record family or class gratitude. Allow each member of the family or grade to take the book for a week. Ask them to write about the things they’re grateful for during their week and include drawings or photos. Have each child share their special memories with the family or class on an allocated day.
Not everyone will create a gratitude journal according to the “rules”. It’s important to give kids some creative license with their journal so they don’t become bored. Suggest writing in their journal once or twice a week, and don’t push for more as studies have shown it’s more beneficial to only write a few times a week.
The Gratitude Game
Have your class or family name something they’re grateful for beginning with each letter of the alphabet. For example, I’m grateful for apples. They’re tasty and good for me.
Get kids to create their own sticky notes to put up in the classroom or around the house. Some examples of things they might write:
• It’s a beautiful day.
• I’m happy to be me.
• I have amazing friends.
• I’m so lucky to have so many people who love me.
• My classmates are awesome.
Giving to Others – At School
Research and involve children in choosing a charity or charitable activity that your grade can support. Explain it well so children have a thorough understanding of who they are helping, how and why. If you’re sponsoring a child, for instance, be sure to ask for photos and progress reports so children can see how their efforts are being rewarded. If participating in a Christmas wishing tree for the needy, involve children in choosing and wrapping the gifts. The opportunity to help someone less fortunate can be a real eye opener for children highlighting how fortunate they are themselves. Here are some other ideas you may enjoy.
The Gift of Giving – At Home
Let’s face it, most children have so much “stuff” they really don’t need, so receiving more gifts on their birthday or at Christmas can seem terribly self-indulgent. Why not use these special occasions to teach children to give to those less fortunate. Chelsea from Moments a Day has some terrific ideas of how to make your child’s special day so much more meaningful.
How do you teach gratitude in your home or classroom?
Click here to find out about the science behind gratitude and why it’s important for our wellbeing.
Author: Lisa Currie, Ripple Kindness Project
Lisa is the founder of Ripple Kindness Project, a community program and school curriculum that aims to improve social, emotional and mental health, and reduce bullying by teaching and inspiring kindness. The ongoing, whole school primary curriculum teaches children about their emotions and the impact their words and actions have on others. It provides opportunities for children to be part of kindness activities, allowing them to experience the feel good emotions kindness produces.