For most of us, when we think of gratitude, we think of the phrase “Thank You.” But gratitude is so much more than that! Gratitude is a positive emotion that serves a purpose.
The science behind gratitude
Harvard Medical School defines gratitude as “a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals—whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.”
Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, explains that gratitude has two key components.
- Recognition of good things in our lives
- The understanding that the source of that goodness lies outside ourselves.
Teaching children gratitude from an early age helps them to seek out and focus on the positive moments during the day.
With practice and consistency, gratitude nurtures:
- A natural life outlook
- Increased level of happiness
- Overall better mental, physical, and emotional health
According to a study by Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis, cultivating gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25%.
Other studies confirm that kids who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and family. And feeling grateful motivates adolescents to help others and use their strengths to contribute to society.
How to inspire grateful thoughts in kids
There are several ways to raise a grateful child, the most powerful of which is a Daily Gratitude Practice.
Just before my triplets turned 4, we went to a neighborhood block party. When we were ready to leave, it was late—they were tired and hungry. I put two of the triplets in their car seats. When I turned to pick up the third one, he sat down in the grass and started crying.
In between tears, he managed to explain, “I wanted to do another craft project and I didn’t get a chance to play with the toys they had.”
I smiled really big (that’s one of my best parenting tricks, just smile really big in any situation!) As I picked him up and started buckling his car seat, I said to him:
“I am so grateful for all of the new friends that we made tonight. I am really grateful for the wonderful colors that you used when you painted your rock and I’m grateful that you moved over and made place for your new friend so that she could do a craft project too.”
As I got into the car, I asked my husband, “What are you grateful for?” He took the cue and gave his gratitude. We went on to ask each of the triplets, “What are you grateful for?”
And that’s how our daily gratitude practice started and we’ve been consistently practicing for almost two years now. In the beginning, kids, especially young ones, will mimic what you say—because they’re learning. But give them a week of consistent practice and you will be amazed at what you hear!
On average, it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact, according to a study in the European Journal of Social Psychology.
Being grateful every day
When starting a family gratitude practice remember, stay consistent and practice.
1. Pick an activity your family does several times a day—make sure it’s a fun and exciting experience for the whole family.
Pick an activity that your family does routinely several times a day, meal times, car rides, and before bed are all popular. My favorite? Car rides. If you pick car rides, leave a sticky note reminder on your steering wheel or in the rearview mirror.
2. Focus only on the activity or experience you just had.
If you choose car rides for your Daily Family Gratitude Practice, family members give gratitude about the activity or experience they just had. Whether you’re headed home from a trip to the grocery store, the library, school, or a theme park- gratitude focuses on the experience you just had.
- “I am grateful that dad let me put the credit card in the machine to pay for the groceries.”
- “I am grateful to the cashier for giving me stickers.”
- “I am grateful to my kids who carried all the library books to the car.”
Starting a family gratitude practice helps kids be present and focus on the positive aspects of the activity they’re doing or experience they’re having because they get to give their gratitude right after the event.
3. Stay consistent.
If you forget once, it’s totally fine. Just make sure your reminders are in place and focus on the next opportunity. After a few days, you’ll find that the kids will automatically start the gratitude practice. They’ll look forward to the giving gratitude experience, focus on being more present during events or activities, and truly become more grateful.
Make the Daily Family Gratitude Practice something fun to look forward to and in no time, you will be amazed at how Practicing Gratitude daily will change your life!
Supna is the founder of WeGo Kids and a mom of triplets. WeGo kids is dedicated to inspiring parents to nurture emotional intelligence in their children from an early age. You can download your free beginner’s guide to emotional intelligence parenting at raisingEI.com.