Children are not usually born grateful - they learn it from others. (Photo: shutterstock.com)

Raising grateful kids

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and many of us are counting our blessings and pausing to appreciate what's really important in life. But are we raising our kids to be thankful, as well?

Studies have shown that grateful kids are not only happier kids, but are also more likely to have higher grades, more friends and more life satisfaction than their materialistic counterparts.

They're also less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, have behavior problems at school or suffer from depression.

So it's no wonder parents are wondering how to make their kids more thankful.

According to the experts, encouraging "please" and "thank you" is a great place to start, but true gratitude – and the empathy and compassion that comes with it –  is a long-term process and requires real effort on the part of parents.

An ounce of prevention

Although it's difficult to say no in a culture that celebrates consumerism and all things new and shiny, that's exactly what's necessary. It's hard to teach thankfulness to kids if they get everything they ask for.

So if you're serious about raising grateful kids you'll have to say no even when it seems easier – and maybe more fun – to say yes.

One clever psychologist suggests having "look days" and "buy days."

Before you head out for the day's activities, let your kids know that it's just a "look day." Maybe you'll see trees at the park, or toys in the store or souvenirs at the museum, but today you're just looking and enjoying. Other days can be "buy days," when you purchase things. Of course, more days should be "look days" than "buy days."

Think of saying "no" to new materials things as saying "yes" to appreciating what you already have.

To avoid an unreasonable amount of gifts and materials things at holiday time, consider Secret Santa exchanges where everyone receives one or two special items. If you can't avoid the deluge of gifts, be sure to keep the focus on celebrating and spending time with friends and family rather than the gifts.

And of course, help your child write thank-you notes for each gift they receive. Young children might start out just drawing a picture and scribbling their name. As they get older, it's nice to explain why the like the gift and what they'll do with it.

Rituals

If you don't already, it might be nice to incorporate some kind of thankfulness ritual into everyday life. At dinnertime, for example, you might start out the meal with everyone mentioning one thing they're grateful for from that day. Some families say grace or a prayer before their meal to give thanks for the food they're about to eat.

Bedtime is another great time for kids to reflect on what they're thankful for. Whatever it is, dedicating one time per day to building gratitude goes a long way to raising a grateful child who is aware of their blessings.

Work for it

To fully appreciate the work that gets done around the house, kids need to participate regularly and consistently in the household chores. They're more likely to be truly grateful for the things that are done for them if they've experienced the kind of work that goes into it.

Another great way to foster empathy and compassion in your children is to involve them in service projects in the community. No matter your child's age, there are projects big and small that can help them connect to others in a meaningful way and be more grateful for the things they have. For some ideas, see our guide to Family-Friendly Community Service.

Model it

As with anything else, we parents have to be living examples of what it means to be grateful. Thank your child when they deserve it. Talk about what you're grateful for. Live your life in a way that prioritizes people over things.

And when you master this wonderful, idyllic list I've put forth for us all, please let me know how you did it!

Talkbacks

ahairforkidssalon | Nov. 30, 2013 at 3:44 p.m. (report)

We have a lot of thoughtful and grateful kids that think of others that come to our salon. Our salon see a lot of kids wanting to donate their hair to Locks of Love for those who are suffering from cancer and lose their hair. When children come in the salon they really understand why they are doing it, and explain they have thought about it a long time, so that's why they have not been in our salon for a long time, because they had a plan to grow it out. I think it's great that children are thinking of others needs before their own. I see a lot of grateful and thankful kids around us.

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