Children receive lifelong benefits from learning gratitude and practicing thanksgiving all year long. Gratitude is a difficult concept to teach to normally self-centered and self-involved young children, but that is when the teaching should begin.
If your children haven’t learned to be thankful as preschoolers, it’s not too late. Thanksgiving Day is a reminder to all of us of the importance of gratitude and expressing thanks.
The Benefits of Gratitude are Lifelong
Children who learn to be thankful for what they have and for services performed for them lead much happier, healthier lives. Many studies, such as those at the University of California at Davis and at Harvard, have confirmed the benefits of gratitude for both children and adults, and the power of expressing thanks.
- These are the physical benefits:
- Lowers blood pressure
- Lowers cholesterol levels
- Boosts the immune system
- These are the mental and emotional benefits:
- Lowers stress levels
- Helps develop empathy
- Produces higher levels of happiness and optimism
- Reduces depression and increases feelings of self-esteem
- Improves attitudes about school and work
The much-celebrated Oprah, in her latest book What I Know for Sure, sees giving thanks as a life-changing power.
Gratitude is Learned from Parents
No one is born grateful and giving thanks is not a natural behavior for children. Here is how to teach it:
- Teach children to recognize their blessings — When you tuck your children into bed or are saying good night, ask them to tell you the best thing that happened to them that day. Be prepared to tell them the best part of your day, too. Remembering something happy is a good way to end the day, and being thankful for those happy moments teaches recognition of the good things in life.
- Show your own gratitude — Remember to say “please” and always smile and say “thank you” to your children and others who provide services for you or when they give you something. Children will adopt these habits as a normal behavioral pattern. (Remind them!)
- Work thankfulness into everyday conversations — “Aren’t we lucky to have our wonderful dog?” “Look at the fall colors on the street. Aren’t they beautiful?” “Thank you so much for clearing the table for me.”
- Give children chores — Suffer through the awkwardness of a child’s learning curve when doing chores. Resist taking over the job. If you do everything for your children, they won’t understand and learn to appreciate the effort it requires when people do things for them.
- Involve your children in acts of kindness and generosity — Have your child help select a toy to donate to another child at Christmas, or help make soup or cookies for a shut-in. Talk about what you are doing and why. Have them imagine another person’s happiness: “Think of a little boy with no other gifts on Christmas morning finding this new truck under his tree.” “Imagine old Mr. Smith who has no one to cook for him eating this homemade soup / these cookies. He’ll be so happy.”
- Don’t give your children too much — A child must learn that he can’t have everything he wants and there is a cost paid by a parent who has to work for a living. The item may be too costly or a parent may have to give up something needed for the household to provide it. Saying “no” now and then makes a “yes” more significant and more appreciated.
By age two or three, children can learn to say “please” when they ask for something and “thank you” when they are given something. By age four, they can learn to be thankful for kind and loving actions that are performed for them. These are important learning stages.
When you celebrate Thanksgiving (October 12th in Canada; November 26th in the USA), make sure everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, has a chance to tell the others what has made them especially happy and thankful over the past year. You are helping your children find the many silver linings in life, and reminding yourself of them, too!
Can you think of any other techniques for teaching gratitude? Share them in the comment section below.
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