Gratitude doesn’t come naturally to our kids. You might be laughing because you experience this with your child every day. This is why we have to teach our children to say thank you. They aren’t going to do it on their own.
This isn’t your child’s fault. It’s simply how children develop. We are wired to be egocentric, especially when we’re young. To children, it feels like the world revolves around them. Their needs are what they think of, not others’, so they don’t think to be grateful for what they have.
A study done at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill found that gratitude is best instilled in kids as experience in four parts:
1. What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful
2. How we THINK about why we have been given those things
3. How we FEEL about the things we have been given
4. What we DO to express appreciation in turn
These first three experiences are things you can talk through with your child. What are you thankful for? How do you feel about these things you’re thankful for? Do you see them as gifts? Asking key questions and teaching your child to notice what is around him will help him learn to give thanks on his own, rather than only when you tell him to say thank you.
The fourth experience listed above, what we do to express appreciation in turn, is the most crucial part of teaching our kids to be thankful.
Instilling gratitude is done less by words than actions and experience. We can talk about different circumstances like hunger and need, but unless kids are immersed in it, they just don’t get it.
Expose your children to those who lack food or are sick or homeless. They’ve heard about all of these things, but when they actually walk among children who have no food or someone who doesn’t have a bed to sleep on at night, they will experience life on a different level. They will begin to see how much they have in contrast to how much this other person doesn’t have, and they will feel grateful.
This holiday season, I encourage you to find a community service event you can attend as a family. Whether it’s serving at a soup kitchen, which is something my family has done for years, visiting a homeless shelter or something else you know would engage your child, make that—rather than Black Friday shopping—your priority. I assure you, the effect this will have on your child will astound you, encourage you and leave you feeling grateful.