by Sarah Arnold, Licensed Psychologist
As the Thanksgiving season approaches, we are all reminded of the importance of having gratitude. Being a thankful person helps us to be mindful of the good things, even in stressful times. Using a grateful thinking style has even been shown to have psychological benefits. So, how can we help our children to develop a thankful style of thinking and grow to be grateful individuals?
We can start by demonstrating a thankful approach to life. Let your children hear you sincerely say “thank you” often. You can thank a teacher, a waitress, a store clerk, your parents and, most importantly, your children routinely. “Thank you for helping me to fix this.” “Thank you for helping me with dinner.” “Thank you for sharing your toys.” After all, modeling social skills is the primary way your child will learn them.
Secondly, teach your children the importance of using thankful words. Remind your children to say “thank you” often and point out how it makes others feel when someone thanks them; in addition, explain how it makes you feel when you are grateful.
Be sure to also share your own memories and experiences of thankful moments. Talk with your children about how you felt when you were helpful to someone and they were grateful, and discuss times when you were helped and felt thankful.
Make sure to also look for opportunities to have your children experience the giving end of the gratitude spectrum. It may seem odd to think of it as a gratitude spectrum, however, while giving and receiving may seem to be opposite concepts, they really are along a continuum. When we are able to give, we can be grateful that we are able to be a position to give and we can experience the positive feelings associated with giving. As we move along the continuum, we also can be grateful for receiving assistance, support, or help. Children developmentally are often on the receiving end of the help, and we don’t think about helping them develop the full spectrum of gratitude. As they experience opportunities to give and be helpful, they can understand gratitude more fully. Find opportunities to volunteer together. You could make a meal for a grieving neighbor, collect canned goods for a food pantry, adopt a family to shop for at Christmas, or engage together in countless other giving opportunities.
And lastly, keep thankful traditions a routine part of your family’s life, not just once a year on Thanksgiving. Be mindful of keeping gifts reasonable all year, so that your child can appreciate gifts, rather than perceiving that they can have everything they ask for. You may also incorporate practices of pointing out things your family members are appreciative of on a weekly basis by having a “What I am thankful for” talk at dinner. Your family could adopt the tradition of writing gratitude notes to one another or to others on a regular basis. Again, the idea is to incorporate grateful and thankful thinking into daily life, so children can develop an appreciative thinking style as they grow. With a grateful mindset, you and your children can reap the personal, psychological, and multi-layered, larger community benefits.