by Dr. Virginia Smith
Children have a natural gift for wonder. You can see their eyes light up and faces fill with joy when they see something marvelous. Even though children can exhibit selfish tendencies, many times they are able to express thankfulness and gratitude for what they have received, especially when it is something they have wished and hoped for.
Gratefulness is a Healthy Habit
This ability to demonstrate gratitude is fun and encouraging, but did you know it is also healthy? Yes, research has demonstrated a high correlation between a spirit of gratitude and success in life – including maintaining good health.
Since we all want our children to be happy, healthy, and successful, what can we do to help them develop a spirit of gratitude? While thinking about this question, I decided to poll a few people I know and ask them what they did to instill thankfulness into their children and here are the top three answers:
- Take time to list blessings. Spend some time with your child listing all of the blessings they have – including people. The younger the child, the more “material” their list is likely to be. That’s OK. It is not wrong to recognize that you have been given good things. It is how you work through this that is important. If you believe that you deserve everything all the time, you develop a sense of entitlement. And entitlement leads to disappointment. Doing this activity with your child opens dialogue and gives you the opportunity to have heavier discussions such as what is most important in life.
- Write thank you notes. Many friends listed this as one of the very first things they ever did to help their children develop gratitude. Thank you cards can be 100% homemade or inexpensive options can be found at the dollar store – eight cards for one dollar. Cards help children acknowledge their gift(s) and the people who gave them, but also make a sometimes abstract emotional reaction more concrete.
- Care and share. Give your child opportunities to share. Sharing, no matter of what – time, money, toys, food – moves the child’s focus from “self at center” to “others at center.” When children become less self-centered, they actually are more satisfied and content than if they spend all of their time worrying that someone else is getting something they want really badly.
As an adult, every time you have the opportunity to verbalize gratefulness in front of your children you can actually help them develop more gratitude. They learn from your example, so set a good one. In the end, everyone in your family will be happier and healthier.
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Dr. Virginia Smith is a speaker, author, and life-long educator. A Kamm Distinguished Fellow in Academics, Research, and Leadership, she holds degrees in family services, business, and education with areas of concentration in curriculum design and development.