What parent does not want to be acknowledged and appreciated for their hard work, commitment, and sacrifices? I hear so many parents complain that their kids don’t appreciate what is done for them or provided to them. Many parents feel that their children are rude and disrespectful because they do not say thank you. I hear the words spoiled, entitled, and bratty used often to describe kids who don’t show gratitude or appreciation. Sound familiar?
What is amazing it that we can easily turn this around! Gratitude can be developed in young people and also in ourselves. We cannot make our children be grateful, but we can influence them to be more grateful. Gratitude is a behavior that must be caught, and not taught. One of the ways we can influence or nurture gratitude in our children is by modeling gratitude ourselves. This can be as simple as showing gratitude toward your child for doing the things they are supposed to do (i.e., clean up their messes, get themselves ready in the morning, or do chores around the house). A simple “thanks so much for getting the dishes done before dinner” can be enough to encourage your child to show appreciation toward you and others. Another very effective way of nurturing gratitude in children is by modeling it in our own relationships. This can be done with close family members, with friends, and even with strangers. If you practice thanking your partner in front of your kids, everyone in your family will develop a greater attitude of gratitude. Our kids are more likely to do what we do than do what we say. When you show appreciation for the smallest, everyday things, you help foster gratitude in your children.
And there are so many benefits! Studies have demonstrated that when people display gratitude they experience less depression (Woodard, K.M. ,et al, 1998) do better academically (Hasemeyer, M. , 2013) and have a more positive life outlook (Emmons, R, et al E. 2003) . And you might not be surprised to learn that research has also confirmed that people are more well-liked by others when they show appreciation and gratitude. (McCullough, M et. al, 2002 ; Wood, A. et al., 2008 ).
So what can we do? Practice! Maybe you’re not in the habit of showing gratitude as much as you would like. Here are a few ideas to get you going: (1) keep a gratitude journal, (2) sign up for a 21-Day Gratitude Challenge, (3) create a ritual of sharing appreciations with your children at the dinner table together or at bedtime or (4) do a gratitude craft or project together as a family.
If you decide to keep a journal, you can either keep a physical journal or use an online tool such as the online journal at www.thnx4.org. The goal is to write down three to five things for which you feel grateful. The physical act of writing is important—don’t just do this exercise in your head. Try to spend five to ten minutes each day for at least one week. Studies suggest that writing in a gratitude journal one to three times per week might actually have a greater impact on our happiness than journaling every day, so no worries if you miss a day or two. (Reich, J, et al 2010)
Here are a few pointers for when you are writing in your gratitude journal: (1) Be specific. Instead of writing “I’m grateful for my friends” maybe expand your gratitude statement to “I’m grateful for having friends in my life who I can count on and who help me out with my kids when I have an emergency.” (2) Document events that were unexpected or surprising. These occurrences tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude. (3) Write regularly and stay consistent. If you are only going to write in your journal once a week, pick a day and time that you know you will be available to write.
There are numerous Thanksgiving projects for kids of all ages. One art project that is fun and easy is creating a Gratitude Turkey together. I have included a download above that can serve as a guide in case you are not the crafty type (I'm definitely not!) After cutting out your turkey have a discussion about all the things each member of the family is thankful for and write them on the various turkey feathers. Then let your child color, paint and decorate!
As our national day of thanks approaches, I encourage you to think about your rituals of giving thanks. We do not have to wait until the third Thursday of November to give thanks. Giving thanks is something we can do on a daily basis with and around our children. Pick a practice that works for you and go for it! I guarantee you will be rewarded for your efforts with much appreciation and kindness.
Emmons, Robert A. and Michael E. McCullough. 2003. "Counting Blessings versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84: 377–389.
Hasemeyer, Michelle Denise, "The Relationship between Gratitude and Psychological, Social, and Academic Functioning in Middle Adolescence" (2013). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/etd/4688
McCullough , M. E. , Emmons , R. A. , & Tsang , Jo-Ann ( 2002 ). The grateful disposition: A conceptual and empirical topography . Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82 , 112 – 127.
Reich, John W., Alex Zautra, and John Stuart Hall. Handbook of Adult Resilience. New York: Guilford, 2010. 454-455.
Wood , A. M. , Joseph , S. , & Maltby , J. ( 2008 ). Gratitude uniquely predicts satisfaction with life: Incremental validity above the domains and facets of the five-factor model. Personality and Individual Difference, 45, 49-54.
Woodard K.M., Moua G.K and Watkins P.C. (1998) Depressed Individuals Show Less Gratitude . Presentation at the 1998 joint convention of the Western Psychological Association and Rocky Mountain Association. Alburquerque, NM.