Q:  “I’m not sure how to help my kids feel grateful for what they have and not just beg for more candy or toys. My kids have it so much better then I did when I was young. I tell them to say please and to share, but I know there is more I can do. What do you suggest?”

A:  Some people will be thinking of turkeys and pies on Thanksgiving and others will focus on an “attitude of gratitude” no matter what food is being served. It’s up to adults to teach children to be grateful for the goodness in their lives and learn to be compassionate towards others. This can be a challenge when parents are busy or under stress, but keep in mind that children learn their values from you and the other important people in their lives.

There are many reasons to teach our children to be grateful, aside from being polite by saying “thank you.”  Research shows that people who practice gratitude feel happier, and are more enthusiastic and interested in life, and are less stressed.

Gratitude is a value and a virtue that is learned from others, and it is strengthened through practice.

Here are some ways to teach children to be grateful all year long:

Show them by demonstrating gratitude in their presence. When you take a walk, be intentional about noticing the beautiful leaves on the tree or the lovely sunset. Show appreciation for the store clerk who helped you find something. Your attitude towards others will rub off on your kids since gratitude is contagious. Watch TV shows or read books with your kids that represent the values you respect. On Thanksgiving or at dinnertime each night go around the room and say something that you’re grateful for.
Help others who need your assistance, and include your children so they will realize how fortunate they are. Perhaps you’ll bring some turkey soup to a neighbor who is sick, or some warm clothes to a shelter.

Appreciate your children when they are kind or grateful. You can make a gratitude jar by using any container. Have some scratch paper and markers near by so that family members can write down or draw pictures of things they feel grateful for and place the paper in the jar. You can open the jar each week and read what others have written. You can also teach older kids to make a gratitude journal that they write in each night.

Be mindful of your negative attitudes or talking bad about others. Your children will also learn that from you.

Gratitude is an attitude that we can come back to even when we’re under stress. It takes practice, and over time you will find out how you and your children will benefit from the little things you do that bring meaning to your life.

Take a minute to think about the things you’re grateful for.

By Rona Renner, RN