I clearly remember the day my gorgeous (and sadly, dearly departed) Nan sat on the couch watching me while I was waist deep in the wonderful world of solids with our baby girl. Nan had 7 children of her own and she loved watching as our little girl got mushy vegies in her hair and her nappy, squashed berries all over her high chair table and dropped more food than she ate on the floor. If you’re in the midst of all this now, I salute you!
As I passed the sippy cup into those berry stained, food covered little hands, Nan asked me if I spoke her manners for her. To which I replied ‘pardon’? See, I’ve got good manners!! Nan was suggesting the obvious really, but with two babes under two and a generous serve of post-natal depression, sometimes the obvious eluded me.
From then on, whenever there was a call for a please, a thank you or a ta, I would say it and encourage both of our kids to do the same. Fast forward to now when they’re in prep and grade 2, and their manners are pretty good. They still need the occasional reminder which astounds me, seems this manners thing is a long term project requiring daily reinforcement. But I can happily send them on a play date and rest assured they’ll be polite, most of the time anyway.
While it’s one thing for our children to have good manners and to say thank you; it’s a whole other story to foster sincere gratitude in our kids.
How do we raise children who have a genuine sense of appreciation for all that they have and for what others do for them?
We teach them.
The same way we teach them to write their name, catch a ball and to empty the dishwasher. Because gratitude is a learned skill.
And it’s a skill well worth teaching. Because the benefits of gratitude extend way beyond the wonderful feeling that is appreciation. A growing field of scientific research examines the impact of gratitude practices on children and the findings are outstanding.
Benefits of gratitude
In one study where school children were asked to write five things they were grateful for each day for two weeks, the kids showed significant improvements in gratitude, optimism and overall satisfaction with life. Children who were asked to write and deliver a thank-you letter to someone important to them were found to be enjoying more positive emotions (essential for wellbeing) than was typical for them, even up to three months later.
Other research has shown that, compared with people who don’t, people who practice gratitude are more enthusiastic, determined, perform better at school, are more likely to avoid risky behaviours, experience less depression and envy, are more kind and helpful, sleep better, have a more positive outlook and are a whopping 25% happier.
I’d like more of all of that please. And I want it for all of our children too. Happiness is something we absolutely want for ourselves and for our children and practicing gratitude is a sure fire way to boost happiness for the whole family. Especially because the best way to teach gratitude is for us as parents to role model it, often.
We know how we feel when we’re shown gratitude, it lifts our spirits, boosts our mood and inevitably strengthens our relationship with the person expressing their thanks. Our relationships are incredibly important for our overall happiness, and teaching our children appreciation is one of the most important ways we can help them to develop strong relationships over the course of their lives.
Practicing gratitude is gaining momentum, and different families do it in different ways. The trick is to introduce a gratitude practice that doesn’t feel like a chore. Even if there’s a little resistance at first, I’d encourage you to gently persevere and change things up when needed. It feels good to be grateful, so it should eventually become something that doesn’t need too much of a nudge.
There are countless ways to practice gratitude. You could start by more regularly expressing sincere gratitude to your partner and to your children including why you feel grateful, pop up a piece of poster paper on the fridge for the kids to note things they’re grateful for in colourful textas, ask each family member what they’re thankful for each evening at dinner, stop to savour and appreciate the little things like a beautiful flower or a colourful sunset, find the silver lining in difficult circumstances, relive happy moments together, hold hands at the dinner table and thank the person who prepared the food, ask the kids to take photos of the things they’re grateful for, keep thank-you notes at the ready, encourage a contribution for ‘wants’ from pocket money, start a gratitude journal and invite the kids to make contributions, and encourage your kids to help others.
It’s really about finding the right fit. What works for you and your family and making adjustments along the way.
Associate Professor Jeffrey Froh, a leading authority on gratitude in young people, tells us that perhaps one of the most important things we can do is “to help kids discover their passions and to find a path to purpose that resonates with them— with their values, interests, and dreams. Having a sense of purpose in life gives youth a compass for creating a meaningful life. This starts with feeding their interests in the social issues they care about and pushing them to learn as much as they can about those issues and discover ways they can make a difference. The deepest sense of gratitude in life comes from connecting to a bigger picture, to an issue that matters to others and doing things that contribute to society down the road.”