3 Great Methods for Cultivating Gratitude in Children

Much has been said and written about cultivating gratitude and its benefits for individuals and groups of people.  Gratitude makes us more resilient, helps us sleep better, helps strengthen relationships, and helps us cope with adversity, just to name a few (see this article for more on just some of the mountain of research out there about this).  And most parents hope to raise their children to demonstrate gratitude (who doesn’t hope for a “thank you, mom” or “I appreciate you, dad” to acknowledge the many things you do to support your kids?) 

A quick Google search will point you towards endless activities you can do with your children to practice gratitude.  But we may not always have time for another art activity or a new routine to integrate into our lives.  And so, in this season of giving thanks, I wanted to offer a few quick ideas for ways you can integrate gratitude into the conversations you are already having with your children, and maybe reap some of the benefits of a gratitude practice for yourself at the same time.

How to Go About Cultivating Gratitude Into Your Family Life:

  • Cultivating gratitude by connecting it to your body.  Like all feelings, we experience the emotion of gratitude in our bodies.  The next time you notice yourself feeling grateful for something, notice where you feel it and comment on it to your kids.  Maybe your chest feels full, or you feel a sensation of lightness, or a tingling behind your eyes.  When you notice what you feel and make that known to your kids, you cue them to notice how they feel as well.  And letting ourselves sit in the sensation of a positive emotion can make it feel more real and easier to notice the next time.

AN EXAMPLE:  “I feel so grateful for this delicious dinner, and I feel warm all the way down to my toes.”

  • Thank your children for their contributions.  You are the best model for how to go about cultivating gratitude. Sometimes it can be easy to think that children are simply supposed to do what is expected of them, and in the hustle and bustle of daily life, we can forget to acknowledge their efforts.  But there is a lot of evidence that thanking each other for even every-day things is supportive for couples relationships, and I believe it’s supportive for caregiver-child relationships too.  When kids know that their efforts to do their chores, finish their homework, or help around the house are noticed, they feel important and want to do more of those helpful things.

AN EXAMPLE:  “I really appreciate when you work hard on your homework even when it’s challenging.  Thank you for being such a hard worker.”

  • Name uncomfortable feelings before shifting to gratitude.  This one may seem counterintuitive, but there’s a reason for it.  Our uncomfortable or unhappy feelings in the face of something unpleasant are there for a reason.  Sometimes they help us understand what is important to us, sometimes they tell us when something is a threat, or sometimes they help us connect to another’s pain.  If we skip over the discomfort and go straight to trying to frame the situation as something to be grateful for, we may miss those benefits, and the unpleasant feelings may just fester.  When you help your child notice their upset feelings about something first, before you find something to be grateful for in the situation, you help them embrace their whole experience, connect to others, and practice shifting into gratitude. 

AN EXAMPLE:  “I know you feel so sad about missing your friend’s birthday party.  I’m so grateful that you will have another chance to see them soon.”

Thank you for everything you do to support your children and families.  Make sure to work on cultivating gratitude for yourself this season too.

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