Another Simple Thing: Foster an “Attitude of Gratitude”
(Note: This is the eighth in a series of 50 Simple Things we can do to build a better world for kids. The reflections will eventually be turned into a book).
As a child, I remember my mom prompting me to think about what I was grateful for every day, whether at dinner table conversations or in my bed time prayers. Today, I’m still grateful for a mother who instilled gratitude into my daily routine. Now the mother of a 2-year-old myself, I look for ways to infuse a grateful attitude into our daily lives – a verbal “thank you” to the daycare workers at the end of a long day, thanking my husband for a homemade dinner, telling my son how happy I am that he’s helping pick up his toys before bedtime. As my son gets older, I’m looking forward to deeper “What are you grateful for today?” conversations and community service opportunities that will help to remind us of how much we truly have to be thankful for.
– Ronecca Norvell, Children’s Center Director of Development
Everyone knows White Christmas; both the song and movie are classics. But can you name the other song from the movie nominated for a 1955 Academy Award? Written by Irving Berlin, it offered this remedy for insomnia:
When I’m worried and I can’t sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings…
Over time, “Counting My Blessings” has proven to be far more than a catchy tune. According to experts, a good night’s sleep is just one reward enjoyed by those who maintain an “attitude of gratitude.” Among the many other benefits (outlined by gratitude expert, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis) are increased self-esteem, hope, empathy, and optimism, as well as more positive perceptions of school and family. Dr. Emmons suggests that grateful people are happier people—by as much as 25%!
Gratitude is a critical building block for healthy relationships. Think about it—whose company do you prefer: a constant complainer, or someone with an eager eye for silver linings?
Identifying what we’re grateful for heightens our awareness of the people and things that make our lives worthwhile. Such appreciation leads to more respectful behavior as well.
Given the boost we derive from gratitude, it’s important to get kids off on the right foot. While it’s easy enough to teach children to say “thank you” (and “please”!), helping them develop a grateful disposition takes a bit more effort. And time. And practice.
Here are four ways to get and keep the ball rolling:
Children learn more by what you do than what you say. So, make a point of expressing your appreciation aloud—sincerely and often! And remember—kids can tell when you’re not genuine. Perhaps the easiest (and most time-honored) tradition is simply asking children to share what they’re grateful for at mealtimes. Another great exercise is writing thank you notes together. Even one-year-olds enjoy scribbling—which makes for original cards that are cherished by recipients!
Don’t overload the house with “things.”
Buying everything your kids ask for doesn’t guarantee their happiness. And it may drive you bankrupt! You can help your children understand the difference between wants and needs—and ensure their appreciation of both—by keeping purchases modest. The gift of your time is always the best investment. And by talking with children about the cost of things like toys, you’ll also be contributing to their financial education (often overlooked both at home and in school).
Instill a work ethic—and the value of giving back.
It’s not unreasonable to ask kids to help around the house, even at an early age. In fact, two-and-three-year-olds are great at turning tasks such as setting the table into a game. Not only does their success at reasonable, age-appropriate chores help them build self-esteem, it helps them appreciate everything else that goes into running a home—and caring for others. You might pair more difficult and time-consuming jobs with an allowance. And most kids are naturally attuned to others in need. Helping them respond appropriately (and engage in “community service”) is another way to extend their appreciation for what they already have.
Encourage good manners—and capitalize on teachable moments.
Everyone deserves to be treated politely. By modeling respect and appreciation, you show children how important we are to each other—building gratitude by osmosis! Neither you—nor the kids—will always get things right. But don’t worry! Every moment is a teachable one. And when manners are neglected, a gentle rephrasing or reminder can be a building block for future success—provided you don’t cause embarrassment or belabor the point.
Cultivating gratitude—like all virtues—is a process. The more you stick with it, the better the results. And while there are bound to be some rough edges—especially around those chores—someday the kids will thank you for the effort. In the meantime, hopefully, everyone will sleep a little better!