It turns out that being thankful is not only good manners, but it’s also good for you and your kids.
According to Dr. Jeffrey Froh, psychologist and author of Making Grateful Kids, grateful kids are happier, more satisfied with their lives, more optimistic and more hopeful.
“They have a stronger desire to use their strengths to improve their communities, and they’re less depressed, envious and materialistic compared to their less grateful counterparts,” Froh says.
Science backs up the importance of gratitude. Numerous studies show that regularly practicing gratitude contributes to better physical health, emotional resilience, stronger relationships and even improved sleep.
Mary O’Donohue, mom and author of When You Say “Thank You,” Mean It, had an epiphany when she was coaxing a “thank you” out of her 5-year-old after he received a gift.
“I realized that when I repeatedly prompted those ‘thank you’s, we were just training our son to act thankful rather than teaching him to be a grateful person,” O’Donohue says.
Her advice: “Stop prompting your kids to say ‘thank you,’ because when we focus on the words more than the feelings behind the words, we send the wrong message to our kids.”
Teaching gratitude starts with a simple step: parents modeling gratitude to their children.
“We have to do more than talk the talk; we must also walk the walk,” O’Donohue says.
“In order to raise truly grateful children, gratitude has to be part of everyday life in the family.”
It’s the little things that often can add up and serve as examples for your children.
Froh suggests using kids’ strengths to fuel gratitude, encouraging helping others and being generous, helping kids nurture their relationships, and helping kids find what matters to them.
Ideas to try
Create a “Gratitude Board” with a large poster board and colorful markers. Everyone in the family gets their own color marker and they write one thing they are grateful for every day for a month.
It’s also important to teach children to acknowledge and appreciate the many abstract gifts they receive.
“Write a thanks for ‘No-Thing’ letter to express gratitude for an intangible gift of friendship, kindness, support or joy,” O’Donohue suggests. “This simple exercise helps children become aware that they receive ‘gifts’ every day, and this changes how they view their lives and the world they live in.”
If you are looking for concrete ways to give back in your community, make sure the kids are involved every step of the way.
“Try to make it so kids can use their strengths to help out others,” Froh says. “If a kid is good with an instrument, perhaps they can play a few songs at a local nursing home. Or if your kid has an eye for beauty, they can plant and beautify a place in the neighborhood.”
Look for people who may not feel appreciated in your day-to-day lives, O’Donohue says. Get flowers for the librarian who goes out of her way to recommend books for the kids or do a craft project for a neighbor who shovels your snow, for instance.
And don’t forget that gratitude isn’t a one-way street. Make sure kids feel appreciated, too, with thank you notes, hugs and words, she says.
“Gratitude is like social crazy glue. Grateful people … know how to take care of the people who mean a lot to them,” Froh says. “You can trust them. They have integrity. They’re respectful. They use their manners. In short, they’re people we admire and who inspire us to become a better version of ourselves.”