When our kids are just beginning to speak, we teach and remind them to say their ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’ to others. With the best intentions, we want our kids to be appreciative and learn to be grateful. Instilling gratitude goes beyond just good manners, however. It’s a value that must be learned. Adeola Adelayo, MD, a practicing psychiatrist with Banner Behavioral Health Hospital offered her advice for instilling an attitude of gratitude in your young ones.
“It requires children to use a set of emotional intelligence and cognitive skills that aren’t just innate—they are grown and developed over time,” Dr. Adelayo said. “There are many ways, really at any age, that we can encourage and develop grateful hearts.”
Dr. Adelayo shared some intentional ways to help your child and teen grow in an attitude of gratitude.
Lead by Example
Have you ever had the thought as a parent, “Man, I’m beginning to sound like my mother!” In a way, you are! Whether we like it or not, as a child we look to our parents – how they act, react and handle the world. We take those messages and tuck them away only to surprisingly start using the same behaviors as adults. The same holds true with gratitude.
“If you would like your child or teen to be grateful, model gratitude yourself,” Dr. Adelayo advised. “When your kids are present, point out people who are doing things that go beyond what’s expected and be specific about what you are thankful for.” For instance, if a friend takes your child to and from soccer, say something like, “Thank you for bringing my child home. I feel so grateful to have a friend like you who can support me when I need help.”
Let Them Earn Privileges
It started out small. Your child threw a fit because they couldn’t have a toy, and you gave in. Next they are demanding what restaurant you’ll eat at without showing any gratitude when you agree. No parent intentionally sets out to raise spoiled kids but if kids are always given what they want, why should they be grateful?
According to Dr. Adelayo, parents can teach kids to be grateful by having them earn privileges. And no, it doesn’t have to be an allowance necessarily. They want a new pair of the latest – expensive – shoes? Have them earn them through chores like setting and clearing the table. While they are doing the activity, let them know that you notice the hard work they are putting in as this will help reinforce positive behaviors. When kids earn privileges their appreciation and gratitude grow. And, as a bonus, they’ll feel pretty good about themselves and their work ethic too!
Volunteer & Donate Together
Nothing can help a child more than seeing the world from a different lens or perspective. Sign up to volunteer packing food, feeding the homeless and putting work in where they can see the impact they are having in the lives of those less fortunate than themselves.
The next time you fill a bag of toys and clothes to donate, explain to your child why you are pulling items together and ask them if there are things they may want to donate. Take them to the donation center and have them hand the bag over. On the way home, ask them how that made them feel and share how grateful someone will be when they get those items.
Start a Ritual
A simple and easy way to instill gratitude is to talk about it at dinner or breakfast – whenever you can be together around the table. Have everyone list one thing they loved about their day. At first, it may be hard to think of simple things – don’t worry, it just takes practice. Slowly your child or teen will begin to see that even on tough days, there is always something we can be grateful for. For older kids and teens, Dr. Adelayo recommended journaling. “Helping them express gratitude will help build their resilience and create skills for life.”
If your child still isn’t experiencing the full emotion of gratitude, give it time and watch closely. It may be that they express their gratitude in a different way. Instead of a “thank you,” they may prefer hugs.
An attitude of gratitude is a complex and internal experience but using the above tips will help build a good foundation for your child.
Regardless of these tips to keep in mind – if your child or teen is struggling, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Visit doctors.bannerhealth.com to find help near you.