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Every child wants to be liked by their peers. Every parent wants their child to do well in school, have good manners, and be happy. Who would have thought that by teaching gratitude, you could do it all?
Psychologist Jeffrey Froh’s research, as well as many other studies published in the past decade, show a rainbow of benefits for kids who develop a deep sense of gratitude. These benefits are tangible.
“We know that grateful kids are happier [and] more satisfied with their lives,” says Froh, assistant professor and gratitude expert at Hofstra University. “They report better relationships with friends and family, higher GPAs, less materialism, less envy and less depression, along with a desire to connect to their community and to want to give back.”
The benefits to being grateful (regardless of income and material wealth) go on and on, and stretch into adulthood. Expressing thanks helps build strong relationships. As one study found, using “thank you” spurred acquaintances to seek lasting friendships. Grateful people also exercise more, have fewer aches and pains, and sleep better. Especially interesting for parents, practicing gratitude enhances empathy and lowers aggressive behavior. In one University of Kentucky study, participants with higher gratitude scores were less likely to retaliate, even when given negative feedback. They also scored higher in empathy and sensitivity.
Why does gratitude seem to be the answer to everything? Why does a heart-felt “thank you” seem to make such a difference? Partly because when we think grateful thoughts, we’re excluding negative feelings like fear and anxiety. A more brainy answer is that gratitude stimulates the release of good-feeling dopamine, giving us that warm-fuzzy feeling. Maybe it’s just enough to say that gratitude is the goodness we all hope to send and receive.
If it’s so very fundamental to overall happiness, it’s worth understanding how to help kids pick up this big life skill. The good news is that there are moments of gratitude all around us, just waiting to be expressed! And, since it’s the month of Thanksgiving, we’re all in the mood to count our blessings, right?
Here are some tips for incorporating moments of gratitude into your child’s day-to-day.
1. Prompts. A simple exercise that could go on for a long time, especially with young kids. It’s simple. Ask your child to fill in the blank of sentences like the following:
2. Take a gratitude walk. Walking itself can be meditative and therapeutic, but when you and your little one set out on foot just to observe your surroundings, it might inspire you both to share in all the things you might otherwise overlook. Notice and note the colors on the trees, the feel of the sun on your skin, the smell of the air. By doing this simple exercise, you can show your child to appreciate the small stuff.
3. Keep a gratitude journal. Record a video journal or write it on paper. The point is to keep a daily log of at least 5 things that you are thankful for. The benefits of reflecting daily on what makes us happy and satisfied are endless.
4. Don’t worry how young kids express gratitude. Remember, it’s not important what(toys are OK) exactly they’re thankful for, but that they are appreciating what’s already here.
5. Show them with your words and actions how to show appreciation. Spend extra “thank you”-s and “I really appreciate you”-s especially when they’re around. You’ll feel good, too!