Teaching your kids how to practice gratitude is one of the very best things you can do for them.
This isn’t just a nice thing to say; decades of research shows that people (including kids) who feel gratitude and give thanks are more productive, happier, and mentally and physically healthier.
Measurable Benefits of Gratitude in Kids
According to a 3-year study at the University of California, people who practice gratitude consistently have:
- Stronger immune systems and healthier blood pressure.
- Better psychological health, with fewer toxic emotions.
- Better sleep.
- Increased mental strength.
- Greater happiness and optimism.
- More generosity and compassion.
- Less loneliness and feelings of isolation.
- (See footnotes below for links to further sources, studies and research on this topic.)
Kids who understand gratitude have better grades and are less likely to get depressed. They also have greater resilience and empathy.
In “Making Grateful Kids,” Giacomo Bono, Ph.D., and Jeffrey J. Froh, Psy.D. write:
“Evidence from our own research suggests that grateful young adolescents (ages 11-13), compared to their less grateful counterparts, are happier and more optimistic, have better social support, are more satisfied with their school, family, community, friends, and themselves, and give more emotional support to others. We’ve also found that grateful teens (ages 14-19) are more satisfied with their lives, use their strengths to better their community, are more engaged in their schoolwork and hobbies, have higher grades, and are less envious, depressed, and materialistic.”
Before Science, Religion Understood Gratitude
If the only prayer you ever say in your life is thank you, it will be enough.” – Meister Eckhart
“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”- 1 Thessalonians 5:18
“Birkot ha-Shachar,” the Jewish prayer of Dawn Blessings recited at the start of each day are a “litany of thanksgiving for life itself” – “Modeh/Modah ani, “I thank you”
“Allah will reward the grateful.” – Quran 3: 144, Shakir translation
“You have no cause for anything but gratitude and joy.” – The Buddha
“Gratitude is exalted as one of the most important virtues (dharma) in many Hindu texts,” says Dr. Vasudha Narayanan, Distinguished Professor of Religion, University of Florida.
Gratitude is central to every world religion. Indeed, lack of lack of gratitude is frequently considered one of humanities greatest sins.
Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. – Cicero
The opposite of gratitude is entitlement. Entitlement stunts resilience and self-sufficiency. Also, people who lack gratitude also tend to lack empathy. Like “gratitude,” empathy isn’t just a feel-good word: it’s a critical skill for success for our interconnected world.
Every parent knows that young kids are among the least grateful creatures on Earth.
They totally take for granted the nourishing food, warm shelter, education, and entertainment we work so hard to provide for them.
We also know that one our main responsibilities is teaching our kids to give thanks. Almost all kids have to learn how to do this — it’s not something they’re born knowing (though they may be primed for it). They learn how to practice gratitude — and reap its rewards — through a mix of intentional lessons, practical experience, and exposure to role models.
In an interview with Time Magazine, Christine Carter, director of the Greater Good Science Center Parenting Program at UC Berkeley said that “gratitude only arises naturally without cultivation under conditions of scarcity.”
But a recent study highlighted in the Wall Street Journal showed that gratitude is indeed a mindset that kids can learn. (Research Finds Real Benefits for Kids Who Say ‘Thank You’)
Studies also show that gratitude is strengthened through practice. Teaching gratitude at home can be an intentional practice, backed by simple, practical lessons woven into family life.
Gradually learning to give thanks is part of healthy childhood development.
Most babies are born wired to pay attention to other humans around them. But it takes a few years before they can truly understand or express gratitude. As they grow older, gratitude becomes a sign of emotional maturity.
For young kids, start with having them about the good things that happened in their day (the classic roses and thorns question).
Middle-grade kids are focused on gratitude for gifts and physical goods. Parents can help them extend their gratitude by showing appreciation for non-material things.
High school kids can understand the greater meaning of gratitude as they begin to relate their lives to the context of the greater world.
Tips For Instilling Gratitude in Your Kids
1. Model Gratitude
Embodying a grateful attitude might be the most important part of teaching it. That’s because everyday actions can be more impactful than a few big efforts.
In a profile in the Wall Street Journal, University of California, Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons says, “The old adage that virtues are caught, not taught, applies here. It’s not what parents want to hear, but you cannot give your kids something that you yourselves do not have.”
2. Make Sure Kids Are Contributing (aka, Chores)
Household chores have many proven benefits—academically, emotionally and even professionally.
But it also teaches kids to feel gratitude. One of the reasons kids (and grownups) can’t feel or give gratitude is because they simply don’t understand the hard work that goes into making things happen. Chores help teach them that. That’s part of the reason that doing chores is a strong indicator for future success in life.
3. Give Your Kids Allowance – And Let Them Spend It
Just as chores teach kids to appreciate work, allowance teaches kids to appreciate the value of money. When your kids spend your money, it has no meaning. They’ve never put in the hard work to cook, clean, earn, themselves.
Research shows that allowance can lower intrinsic motivation and performance (aka, chores). Read more about the benefits of allowance.
4. Make Time to Give Intentional Appreciations
Appreciation and gratitude are connected. You give it, and you get it.
Family Meetings are a perfect opportunity for sharing appreciations with your family. Corny, but it works.
Creating an intentional space to give appreciations also teaches kids to be specific when they give gratitude and say thanks. Being able to express exactly what one is grateful for is an advanced skill that takes practice to develop.
5. Create Intentional Family Gratitude Activities
Make a list of all the things each person is grateful for. Hang it someplace highly visible in the house. Pin it up and add to it.
Or, create a gratitude journal. Again, sounds corny but it works. Numerous studies have shown that writing down things we’re grateful for helps people improve happiness and health.
6. Volunteer & Donate to a Cause as a Family
Religion and psychology agree that practicing sacrifice is essential to gratitude.
Service is a key element in fostering gratitude. Everyone needs a helping hand from time to time. Research shows that people feel more grateful as givers rather than as receivers. And volunteering also gives a chance to see how much they may have in contrast to others.
A Practice or an Emotion?
Finally, it’s worth considering what gratitude is in the first place. The classic definition is “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.”
“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” A.A. Milne.
But is it an emotion, a mindset, a practice or a discipline? Perhaps it’s all of these things. Above all, it can be passed down to your kids and nurtured in the world.
10 Links For Further Reading:
- The Science of Gratitude
- The Neuroscience of Why Gratitude Makes Us Healthier
- Why Gratitude is Good For You
- Teach Kids Gratitude With These Tips At Different Ages
- Teach Your Child the Importance of Appreciation
- Tips for Every Age How To Raise Grateful Kids
- Gratitude Activities for the Classroom
- In Praise of Gratitude
- Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude
- Seven Ways to Foster Gratitude In Kids