“Thank you.” Two simple words we teach children when they’re small and hope they will use often.
Giving thanks is one of the most basic spiritual practices a child can learn. While it may begin as words a child parrots after an adult’s prompting, it can grow into a way of life. Gratitude becomes the lens through which children experience the world as a place of abundance. It helps them resist feelings of entitlement and embrace every day as a gift to be appreciated.
Even when life is unkind and society biased against them, an attitude of gratitude can help them identify resources for fighting injustice and prevent them from feeling overwhelmed. Noticing the good around them in the midst of much that is wrong reminds them that all is not lost. And giving thanks for even little things helps them pay attention to details that they can use to counter hopelessness.
As parents and caregivers, modeling gratitude for children is thus one of our most important jobs. Educator Livia Chan suggests that we focus our efforts in four ways:
Peer gratitude. Teach children to show appreciation for the time and energy that others share with them. Everyone enjoys hearing that their presence matters to someone else. So encourage children to express gratitude to siblings and playmates after spending time together. If they share household chores, remind them to thank each other for helping out. Don’t forget to do the same when you share activities with others as well.
Thankful Thursdays. Like Taco Tuesdays, Thankful Thursdays can be a fun family tradition that children look forward to each week. Pick a focus, such as what you are thankful for in yourself, or in nature, your friends, your community, or your work/school. Offer everyone a chance to name something they appreciate under the chosen heading. They offer a ‘cheer’ or ‘toast’ of gratitude for those people or things.
Thanks and praise. Instead of simply praising children’s positive behavior, offer them thanks for paying attention, helping another, taking a risk, or sharing their knowledge and resources. Treat their actions as gifts to be appreciated as well as good choices. Model the same gratitude with your adult friends, family members, and coworkers so that children learn that giving thanks is a lifelong spiritual practice.
The gift of feedback. Both children and adults can feel ashamed or embarrassed when their work falls short of success. But when feedback is coupled with appreciation for their efforts, most people try harder the next time. So begin constructive input with thanks for your child’s dedication to the task or creative attempts to solve a problem. Tell them you are thankful for their willingness to try something new. Be generous in your gratitude for their openness to learning. Then offer suggestions for improvement.
Practicing gratitude benefits us as well as our children. Approaching each day with thankfulness for whatever gifts it will bring means we (and they) feel more positive and connected to one another. It’s a good way to live