Gratitude is a higher level concept that can be tricky for toddlers and preschoolers, who by their nature, tend to be self-focused. Talking with young children about being thankful for not only material things, but for acts of kindness from others, is one way.
As children grow with gratitude, they become more understanding of the needs and feelings of others.
So, how do we teach our children to be grateful? Here are five tips from First Things First, gathered from child development experts and websites:
1. Teach children to say thank you to everyone who does something for them – their server at a restaurant, the older sibling who helps them pick up toys, or the friend who gives them a birthday gift.
2. Talk about the things you are grateful for. This can be done in many ways, from a blessing before dinner to keeping a family gratitude journal.
3. Tell your kids why you are grateful for them. Remind your children of your gratitude by using specific reasons why they are special and loved. For example: I appreciate the way you help your brother tie his shoes.
4. Support a charitable event or organization. Whether you are donating old clothes or toys, participating in a food drive, or even baking cookies for a new neighbor, talk to children about what those actions mean to those who receive the kindness.
5. Be consistent. Like all skills, gratitude is not learned in one lesson.
The first five years offer the opportunity for children to develop the skills they need to be successful students and successful adults. Research shows that thankful people are usually more optimistic and are less depressed and stressed. So, when we teach our children to appreciate what they have – and what others do for them – we are helping them to become happier, healthier adults.
Sam Leyvas is chief executive officer of First Things First.