The meaning of gratitude and how to foster it in your children
Dina Dimitriou, the founder of Calm Little Minds and a psychologist with over 12 years of experience working with families and children shares her expertise on the meaning of gratitude and how to foster it in your children.
How many times have you nudged your child to say ‘thank you’ either when you are offering them something or when you are at a friend’s house?
Gratitude is the quality of feeling thankful and a readiness to show appreciation for something. But what does gratitude mean for children?
Today’s psychology studies on gratitude are focusing on understanding gratitude on a different level than previous studies which used to focus on acts of appreciation. Today, in psychology, we realise that gratitude means more than saying ‘thank you’. Not only is the experience and expression of gratitude broader than thanking others but it requires children to use a set of complex socio-emotional skills. Specifically, we know today that gratitude in children starts around the age of three(!) and it involves perspective-taking and emotional knowledge.
Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, build strong relationships and deal with adversity. Never in the history of psychology have we known about the importance of gratitude for mental health than today.
We now know that gratitude has four parts:
- What we notice in our lives that makes us feel grateful
- How we think about everything we have been offered
- How we feel about the things we have been given
- How do we express our appreciation for those things
Older children and adults find it easier to engage in all four parts of gratitude. Younger children, on the other hand, need more support and will only engage in a few of these parts. Gratitude is not only about what we receive in life but what we give back to people too.
How to help your children develop gratitude
- Be a good role model: I am sure you have read this a thousand times now but being a good role model for your children is the best way for them to learn, notice and express gratitude.
- Notice behaviours that go beyond good manners: Yes, your child is saying ‘thank you’ now in appropriate situations and shows good manners. As we discussed before though, gratitude is not just that. Help them notice things in their life that they could feel grateful for and support them in expressing them. Remember, it is all about practice so the more you help them with this process, the easier it would be for it to become a part of their life. Additionally, when they receive something, like a gift from someone, ask them how that makes them feel.
- A few questions that foster gratitude:
Notice: What do you have in your life that you are grateful for? Are there gifts that are not things that make you feel thankful? Maybe people who take care of you? Or think about you?
Think: Do you think you deserve this gift? Do you think you owe something back to the person who gave it to you? Did you do something to earn this gift?
Feel: How does this gift make you feel? How does it feel inside? What is it about this gift that makes you feel happy? Help your child connect the positive feelings to the gift.
Do: Does the feeling you have about this gift make you want to share that feeling by giving something to someone else? Is there a way you want to show how you feel about this gift? By encouraging our children to show gratitude after experiencing gratefulness, whether they be acts of appreciation or paying it forward, may help children connect their experiences and actions in the world.
- Support your children to steer away from materialistic goals and towards intrinsic goals. Intrinsic goals mean to try to achieve something that makes you feel good and find it rewarding. This way you can help your children achieve their own higher-level needs and benefit their development. Appreciate their accomplishments with them as one way to boost their sense of gratitude even more.
- Give opportunities to children to help others and devote time to nurturing relationships. Spend time together to volunteer and help others and encourage them to offer a helping hand to loved ones in need of support. By helping them develop strong, positive relationships you are also offering them something to be grateful for
Gratitude is such an important conversation, as a family how do you ensure you foster the same into your children? Let us know if this was helpful and if you have some magical tricks which have worked on your children!