We want our children to recognize and appreciate what others do for them, what they have. We want to raise grateful children.
Science shows us how.
Beyond the appreciation and recognition we give to others through our gratitude, research shows that gratitude is one of those active ingredients in happiness that we have within our control. Recognizing a feeling of gratitude within ourselves and choosing to express it to others is a specific action we take that grows happiness.
For children, especially for adolescents (and I write as the parent of two teenagers, so I’m really writing about my own children), there will be tough times ahead. Even those of us who had happy childhoods met challenges.
Research on gratitude for children suggests greater happiness, optimism, satisfaction, and engagement for pre-teens and teens who are grateful. The concept and the research aren’t so squishy as they might seem.
What I find exciting about research like this is the clear road. Intuitively, we probably realize that it’s better for us to be grateful than to be ungrateful. Quantify and analyze that gratitude, and we find that happiness and its associated effects are largely in our own hands. For children who might feel like life is out of their control, grasping their own power and responsibility is huge.
Habit of Gratitude for Children
As soon as you start talking to your children, from the first day, you can model gratitude. Tell your child what you are grateful for. Once your child can talk, ask what they are grateful for. Make gratitude and expression of gratitude to others a habit in your lives together.
Positive attracts positive. Positive creates the expectation of positive. Positive builds a pattern of looking for more positive. When we express gratitude and encourage our children to express gratitude, we set those patterns of positivity for our children.
One way to build a habit of gratitude for children is to ask at bedtime what your child’s three good things are. This idea is from Christine Carter’s video “Gratitude 365.”
In their book, Making Grateful Kids, researchers Jeffrey Froh and Giancome Bono suggest 32 strategies to encourage gratitude based on seven essential themes.
- Model and teach gratitude
- Spend time with your kids and be mindful when with them
- Support your child’s autonomy
- Use kids’ strengths to fuel gratitude
- Help focus and support kids to achieve intrinsic goals
- Encourage helping others and nurturing relationships
- Help kids find what matters to them
Jeffrey J. Froh and Giancome Bono, Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character, Templeton Foundation Press, 2014.