Research supports the idea that gratitude is good for us. It helps us form, sustain and strengthen supportive relationships, and contributes to the feeling that we’re connected to a caring community.
This is true regardless of our age.
According to researchers at The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, “Evidence from our own research suggests that grateful young adolescents (ages 11-13), compared to their less grateful counterparts, are happier and more optimistic, have better social support, are more satisfied with their school, family, community, friends, and themselves, and give more emotional support to others. We’ve also found that grateful teens (ages 14-19) are more satisfied with their lives, use their strengths to better their community, are more engaged in their schoolwork and hobbies, have higher grades, and are less envious, depressed, and materialistic.”
As parents, we understand the importance of teaching gratitude. We train our children to say “please” and “thank you” from toddlerhood, but true thankfulness and kindness take time to nurture.
With Thanksgiving around the corner, our children tend to hear more about gratitude in school. Some schools introduce gratitude projects, such as providing students with gratitude journals or assigning “what I am thankful for” essays in class. Others hold food drives to help those less fortunate.
We can reinforce these lessons on gratitude not only in November but all year long.
Talk about it.
Ask your children what makes them feel grateful. Regular conversation about thankfulness can help children take stock of what matters to them. Urge them to look for the little things – a starry night sky, sunshine, a good book, the family pet. They’ll learn that being thankful isn’t always about “things” or spending money. Regular conversation keeps your children tuned in to gratitude.
Look to nature.
Help your children notice the world around them. Learn about how animals get ready for winter (see related story on beavers), watch the colors of the sunset. When we notice nature, we’re focusing less on materialism.
Help children be grateful for freedoms they experience as Americans.
A recent “in the news” project on Nobel Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who survived being shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ education, helped my 5th grade son realize how fortunate we are to live in a country where everyone is able to go to school. We talked about how not everyone has a right to speak freely or practice their chosen religion. The project also helped him realize that even young people can make a difference in the world. (Malala was just 11 years old when she started blogging about the Taliban taking over her town.)
Let them lend a hand.
Assign a household chore to your child and resist the urge to step in. Performing tasks around the house will help him appreciate what you do for him. Plus, he’ll learn that helping things run smoothly around the house takes effort.
Whether it’s helping out at the local food bank once a month or lending a hand to an older neighbor, there are plenty of ways to participate in spreading kindness. Bake cookies for a neighbor, and talk about how happy the recipient will be to receive them. The old saying, “It’s better to give than to receive” really is true. When children given their time and energy to others, they’re less inclined to take their own home, health and family for granted.
There is plenty of need for clothing, books and toys. Look for your local Salvation Army or Goodwill drop-off location, and suggest your child pick out some items to donate.
Developing an attitude of gratitude can take weeks, months, even years of reinforcement. Rest assured, someday you’ll hear a story about a selfless act your children performed on their own. And that’s something to be grateful for.
Karen Nerney has been a communications specialist with Capital Region BOCES since 2011. She is grateful to have witnessed selfless acts of kindness by her two daughters, 18 and 16, and son, 10.