By Emily Morrice (bio)
We all want grateful kids, but the truth is, there’s no clear cut method to create them. That’s the challenge with raising little ones – there’s no formula, and every child is unique, so there aren’t often easy answers. While I can’t guarantee that if you follow these suggestions, your children will be brimming with gratitude, I’ve seen some success with my own little ones, and in any case, it’s a worthwhile endeavour.
To cultivate a grateful heart in your children, there are many steps parents can take towards that end. Here are a few ideas that you can start today with your kiddos!
1. Teach Them Where Things Come From
Whether it’s a freshly cut apple or a new toy, everything we give our kids has an origin. Teaching little ones where these things come from helps them understand that work, time, and money go into everything they have. Daddy had to cut the apple, Mommy had to shop for the toy, the tree had to grow the fruit for us to eat, etc.
2. Slow Down
In our day of immediacy, we are probably lacking in gratitude more than ever. We don’t have time to be grateful because the second we want something, it’s ours. There’s no time in between to reflect or wait. This is true of entertainment, communication, and even food. Slowing down with your children can bring gratitude back to life! Don’t be afraid to spend some time preparing a meal. Yes, their hungry tummies want food RIGHT NOW, but in fifteen minutes, they’ll still be alive, and probably more grateful for a nourishing meal. Try not to meet their non-urgent needs the second they voice them. It will teach them patience and gratitude if they need to wait until you’re free to help. We live in a time of instant gratification, but slowing down will bring back those virtues like patience and gratitude that we’ve lost along the way.
3. Modeling Gratitude
As parents, it’s our responsibility not just to teach our children what’s right, but to communicate and model these virtues in ourselves. As they say, “more is caught than taught”! Next time your toddler gives you something, make sure to offer a warm, “Thank you!”, and further explain your gratitude if the situation permits. Manners can be taught more easily than gratitude, so that’s why I say don’t stop at “Thank you”. We want to show our children that we’re grateful, too.
Examples: Your child puts his toys away after play time. Try saying, “Thank you! I’m so grateful to have your help cleaning up today.” Or, after grocery shopping with the kids, voice your own gratitude by saying, “I’m so thankful we’re able to buy all of this food, and for the yummy things we’ll be able to eat because of these groceries. We have so much and we’re very lucky!”.
4. Practice Gratitude as a Family Before a Meal
For centuries, many religions have practiced gratitude before meals, thanking their higher power for the food they are about to enjoy, but this doesn’t have to be limited to families who practice a certain faith. Simply pausing before the meal to focus on being grateful can work for any family. Some families have each person at the table say something they’re thankful for, others choose one person to voice these feelings for the table (maybe the eldest or youngest diner).
5. Live Minimally
Embracing minimalism has brought untold benefits to our family culture, and one unforeseen benefit is gratitude. A few years ago, we sorted all of our children’s toys and books and gave away 75% of them. We already had less than many families, since we live in a small urban condo and space is limited, but there was obviously still room to improve. Our children began to play longer and deeper with their fewer toys. One might think there’s so much to be grateful when a child sees a room full of toys, but often the inverse happens – they’re numb to their good fortune. Having less increases gratitude for the rare new toy or book and reintroduces value in their possessions.
As we have raised our three children with these steps in mind, we have seen them begin to freely express gratitude themselves. Often it’s them voicing it first, which is the cutest reminder I need as a parent to be grateful!
Emily is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of three little ones. When she’s not traveling the world with her family, Montreal is home, where you can find her exploring the local markets, making a mess in her kitchen, and brewing a cup of tea. Find her on Instagram (@emmorrice) and check out her lifestyle blog, Our Nest In The City, where she documents it all.