Inside: Learn the surprising way to teach gratitude to children that raises kids who live gratefully all year long.
One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions since having children is going around the table before the big meal, each sharing three things we’re grateful for. It’s eye-opening and heartwarming as a parent to hear the kids vocalize the things that mean the most to them in the world.
Every year, the month of November brings a flurry of awareness around the importance of gratitude, catching the eyes of parents everywhere setting out to raise grateful children amidst the entitled world we seem to live in today.
Beyond wanting to avoid raising a greedy child, much of the amazing research conducted on the power of gratitude on lifelong well-being, happiness, health, and relationships has now made its way into the mainstream media.
There’s a reason the father of positive psychology Martin Seligman, strongly recommends people write daily letters of gratitude in his book Authentic Happiness.
Gratitude has the power to increase our happiness and decrease stress by actually changing our brains.
With knowledge of something this powerful that can exponentially increase the emotional well-being of a child, I believe our focus on gratitude should stretch far beyond November. But how would that look exactly?
Teaching your child to live gratefully
If you want to instill long-term lasting gratitude in your child you’re going to need to go beyond an isolated practice or two during the holidays.
The key to helping your child make any long-term change lies in their patterns of everyday thinking. After all, emotions and actions are a natural outflow of our thoughts, so it makes sense we’d start there.
The Secret to helping your child internalize a sense of gratitude
During the holidays, gratitude seems to be a natural outflow of beloved traditions, anticipated outings, good food, and our loved ones.
We find ourselves naturally reflecting on all we have and can actually feel the sense of calm, happiness, and peace this reflective gratitude brings.
But what about the rest of the year? What about the rest of life’s moments that aren’t adorned in glitter, wrapping paper, and bows?
Believe it or not, it is possible to cultivate gratitude in the daily moments where we’d least expect to find it.
If you want to help your child internalize a deep sense of gratitude all year round, the secret lies in helping them seek gratitude not only in the highs of daily life but also in the moments that look a lot like lows.
What does this mean?
It means teaching and modeling living mindfully during challenging times and helping your child begin to trust that in life, many of our most challenging moments end up being the most powerful.
Think about it.
When you look back, which moments were the most powerful when it comes to shaping the person you are today?
Way more often than not, life’s greatest lessons don’t come wrapped in shiny paper and bows, but in our bruises, trials and hardships.
A 3-step approach to building gratitude and resilience
Of course, this doesn’t mean the next time your child falls off their bike you run over, tell them to get over it adding “what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger!”.
This doesn’t mean pushing toxic positivity on them or invalidating their emotions during struggles and hardships.
It does mean that there are three very powerful things you can do to support your child when overwhelmed or struggling that will help them lean into gratitude as part of their everyday mindset.
1. Validate their emotions and experience.
This part absolutely has to come first. When your child is hurt, anxious or angry they are functioning from their emotional brain (amygdala) and won’t be able to listen to feedback or guidance yet. The most therapeutic thing in the world is feeling seen and heard by another human. Offer your child empathy as you try to see the situation from their perspective.
2. Wait for them to come around.
Each child is different in regards to how long it will take them to calm down or reach emotional regulation again, coming back into their rational ‘thinking brain’ (pre-frontal cortex).
Some children have the ability to achieve this on their own, while others will need more guidance and direction in re-directing their thinking if they’re getting stuck in the uncomfortable emotions surrounding an experience. The right time to reflect might be later or day or even later that week.
3. Lead them to present moment opportunities for gratitude.
Open up a conversation about how it’s possible to make the most out of challenging situations, by changing how we think about them (kind of like a mindset superpower!). Some great ways of doing this are:
- modeling the process for them by sharing a recent challenging situation you’ve encountered, and what the situation taught you
- expressing your observations of their resilience to them “I noticed even though you didn’t get to pick the game you wanted, you still chose to have a fun time with your brother”
- teaching them it is indeed possible to find something they’re grateful for right now in the moment, even when things aren’t going the way they’d expected (they can feel two things at once, perhaps frustration AND gratitude, etc).
- engaging them in a conversation about something good that may come from the situation or a lesson they might learn from it, “I wonder if something good or helpful could come from this down the road?”.
Again remember to first be present with them in their struggle, allowing them to move through their natural and healthy emotions of disappointment, frustration, etc., and then gently guide them towards opportunities for growth and gratitude.
Helping your child cope and get comfortable even in spaces of struggle and challenge, will be giving them the lifelong protective factor of resilience!
Learning to live gratefully is a gift to your child
Many of us expend so much energy and emotion fighting against the hard lessons and low points of life, often getting stuck there for much longer than is helpful or necessary. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.
By guiding your child to reframe their thinking around challenging or stressful situations they encounter, you’ll be giving them the framework to live openly and gratefully throughout all seasons of life.
Instead of resisting or shutting down during trials and setbacks, your child will learn to navigate through them in healthy and life-giving ways.
Not only will you be helping them develop a naturally grateful mindset, but you’ll also be instilling important lessons that help raise a resilient child by teaching them to value challenges and mistakes as opportunities for learning and growth.