Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life
is the foundation for all abundance.
– Eckhart Tolle
Each year as Thanksgiving rolls around, we are reminded to reflect on the good in our lives and take a few extra moments to be thankful. This year, which has proven to be more challenging than most, it’s perhaps more important than ever to recognize the relationships, the experiences and the opportunities that have brought us happiness in otherwise difficult times.
Fostering gratitude is especially beneficial for children, and not just around the holidays. Studies have shown that incorporating gratitude into a child’s life can help counteract feelings of entitlement, especially when discussions about gratitude start early in childhood.
The Benefits of Gratitude
According to a 2008 study published in the Journal of School Psychology titled “Counting blessings early in adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being,” counting blessings was associated with increased optimism and life satisfaction and decreased negative effects in early adolescents. Studies in several age groups have shown the correlation between children who practice gratitude and an ability to build strong relationships and deal with adversity. Gratitude has also been correlated with better physical health.
Parents typically desire to build a sense of gratefulness in their children in the hope that it will help counter feelings of inherent privilege and prepare their children to be good stewards of the family’s legacy and wealth. But instilling gratitude in children goes beyond just teaching them to say “thank you” and to occasionally count the good things in their lives. Children also need to understand that the advantages they’ve received, material or otherwise, are not owed to them just because of who they are. It is important for children to understand that some of the good things in their lives have come to them as loving gifts from others, often given in the hope that the gifts will help the children achieve their full potential and accomplish their goals and dreams.
How do you help children experience gratitude rather than fostering a sense of entitlement? One way is to take advantage of teachable moments by simply talking with your children about appreciating the good in our lives.
- Model gratitude. Children often learn more from what we do than what we say, but aligning both of these can really make an impact on your children.
- When you encounter something good in your life, call attention to how much you appreciate what you have received.
- If it was a gift or thoughtful gesture from someone, talk with your children about how kind it was for someone to think of you and how much you appreciate the person taking the time to turn that thought into action for your benefit.
- Ask guiding questions. A rote recitation of “thank you” when receiving a gift, although important, does not necessarily inspire gratitude in a child. But asking them questions about receiving the gift might.
In her article, “What Parents Neglect to Teach about Gratitude,” Dr. Andrea Hussong, one of the researchers for the Raising Grateful Children Project, offers questions that parents can ask children to help them notice and make sense of the gifts they have received. Some of the questions she recommends include:
- Are there considerations or expressions behind the material gift for which you are grateful? For example, are you grateful that someone was thinking about you or caring about you enough to give you the gift?
- Why do you think you received this gift?
- Does it make you feel happy to get this gift? Or perhaps, what about the gift makes you feel happy?
- Is there a way you want to show how you feel about this gift?
- Does the feeling you have about this gift make you want to share that feeling by giving something to someone else?
Asking your children to think about what they have received, why they received it and how they feel about it can go a long way toward helping children really experience gratitude.
Making Gratitude a Habit for Children
When it comes to fostering gratitude in children, experts agree it is best to start early and practice often. While younger children will struggle to think outside of themselves and their experiences, regular reminders to think about the real meaning of what they have been given will help them develop this skill as they mature.
Developing gratitude in children takes time and effort. In addition to regularly displaying your feelings of gratitude for what you have been given, you can help young children develop the habit of really noticing and thinking about gifts as they receive them. Help older children realize that not everyone is in a position to experience the joy of receiving kind gestures or gifts, or receiving assistance from loved ones, and guide children to think about how they could help in these situations. Create occasional opportunities for children to count their blessings and think about where those blessings came from. Read our previous blog post titled “The Gift of Gratitude Lasts a Lifetime” for more ideas to help children learn gratitude.
Gratitude Beyond the Holidays
The upcoming holidays are a wonderful time to think about how gratitude is already present in your children and how you can provide them with opportunities throughout the year to think about and appreciate the good in their lives.
For more ways to prepare the next generation to steward the family’s legacy, contact your Warner attorney or Beth O’Laughlin at email@example.com or 616.396.3118.