7 Tips for Teaching Children Gratitude
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During the Thanksgiving season, is your child pondering all that she's grateful for, or is she paging through toy catalogs to prep for Black Friday? Hey, living in a material world isn't easy, especially when there's so much awesome stuff to be had. But kids who are so focused on "the gimmes" can miss out on opportunities to be thankful. What's more, kids who are constantly on the prowl for numero uno can be total brats.
A 2012 study published in the industry journal Personality and Individual Differences found that gratitude was one of the biggest predictors of life satisfaction, no matter what demographic. Make sure your child looks on the sunny side by teaching children gratitude as a must-have in your home.
1. Make it a daily ritual. Don't make the mistake of limiting gratitude to a once-per-year experience for your child. Making thankfulness a part of your regular routine gets your child thinking about the things she loves most about her life. It doesn't have to take much time: Simply writing in a gratitude journal (or drawing if your little Picasso prefers) or thinking up three things to be grateful for around the dinner table can make being thankful a habit, rather than a holiday tradition.
2. Model the behavior. Good luck with teaching children gratitude if you never say thanks yourself. Children learn what they see, so if you're snippy with the store cashier or expect your partner to wash the dishes, your little one could learn that saying thanks isn't much of a priority for you—or her. As parenting expert Jen Hancock notes, "Kids learn through imitation. You model the behavior you want. This is just how polite interactions occur." This means making sure that you always say thank you, whether you're at the store or at home.
3. Flip a complaint. Ungrateful kids always think they have the short end of the stick, complaining about what they don't have instead of appreciating what they do have. If you catch your little one whining about something, stop the words and ask her to flip the complaint upside-down to come up with a gratitude statement instead. For instance, if your child is complaining that her playmate has better Barbies, have her flip the complaint and find a toy that she's grateful for instead. Or, if she whines about having to go to kindergarten, talk about how awesome it is that she gets to go to school and learn. It'll give your constant complainer a new way of seeing things.
4. Volunteer. Psychologist Dana Klisanin suggests volunteering to cure what ails your ungrateful child. "One way to teach children gratitude at the most basic level is by volunteering at soup kitchens, shelters, orphanages, nursing homes and letting your child work alongside you whenever possible," she notes. "When children experience the gratitude of others for basic necessities such as food, shelter and companionship, they are more likely to recognize and be grateful for these things in their own lives. This is 'foundational gratitude' (gratitude for basic needs)—you can think of it as Gratitude 101." Call your local city office building and ask for volunteer opportunities appropriate for kids.
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