More than saying an automatic ‘thank you’, gratitude is a character strength that supports our most positive life experiences and it’s much more than good manners. When I looked at how to teach gratitude to a child, beyond the basics of sending a thank you note, I learned that researchers at the Greater Good Institute have found that gratitude consists of four different parts. Nurturing all four parts will help our kids more deeply experience and benefit from gratitude in their lives.
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How Does Gratitude Benefit Kids?
Making Grateful Kids describes gratitude as part of a positive social cycle. It goes something like this: a child receives something positive (a gift, for instance). The child feels gratitude for the gift. Gratefulness makes them feel generous toward others and they are more likely to give back. They receive gratitude for their generosity and feel they can make a positive impact on the world. Their confidence increases and their willingness to work hard increases as they feel supported by and included in their community because of the gratitude they’ve experienced.
One of the times when kids are most likely to feel gratitude is when they’ve worked toward a self chosen goal. When they achieve this goal they’ve worked hard for:
- They’re likely to feel gratitude to the people who helped them achieve this goal.
- Feeling grateful makes them more likely to want to be generous to others (so that others can have this happy, grateful feeling as well).
- The feeling of gratitude also increases their self discipline as they decide they would like to experience this feeling again by achieving more of their goals.
- And as they feel gratitude for others, they get better at recognizing the supporters in their community, allowing them to build stronger relationships with people likely to be able to help them again in the future
Gratefulness helps kids have more self control, generosity, self worth and happiness.
What does it mean to be more grateful?
People who are more grateful experience gratitude more frequently, intensely and deeply (they feel gratitude for a wider variety of things and are able to notice a more benefits from their experiences which they’re grateful). When people have more gratitude, it allows them to experience happiness from positive events for a longer period of time.
Some people seem primed from the start to be more grateful than others, however with a growth mindset everyone can increase their experiences of gratitude. A growth mindset says that our skills are not set in stone, and we can improve them through effort. To make that effort in your family first you have to make a choice to make gratitude a priority. Then work on supporting the four parts of gratitude.
Four Parts of Gratitude:
We know the teaching kids gratitude is about more than just good manners, but what does that mean? Researchers have discovered that gratitude actually consists of four parts. As parents it’s helpful to know about all four of these parts of so we can encourage gratitude in our children that’s more than an an automatic please and thank you.
Raising Grateful Children says gratitude consists of these four things:
What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful
How we THINK about why we have been given those things
How we FEEL about the things we have been given
What we DO to express appreciation in turn
Younger children experience gratitude more simply than older kids. As they get older and their cognitive skills develop they’re more likely to engage with all four parts.
So while a toddler may simply be excited when his aunt brings cookies, an older child might realize how thoughtful it was that his aunt remembered his favorite kind of cookie, and can understand that she brought him cookies to express her love. His gratitude is thereby deepened as he can understand more about it. The toddler might say thank you out of prompting or habit. The older child may say thank you out of truly feeling that gratitude.
Here are some simple ways to teach gratitude to a child for each of the four parts:
- Notice: get in the habit of noticing happy or beautiful moments. State these out loud.
- Think: ask questions when your child receives a gift such as, “Why do you think you received this gift?” “Did this person have to give it to you?”
- Feel: start conversation about how gratitude feels. “Where do you feel gratitude in your body?” “Do you think you can spot it when someone else feels grateful?”
- Do: Encourage actions such as writing thank you cards, saying thank you and volunteering to help others.
The nice part is that you can start very simply. Noticing is a powerful first step in gratitude, and just by introducing more conversations about gratitude you’ll increase the noticing in your family. Our gratitude prompts are a fantastic way to start these conversations.
In the Grateful Family Pack we have activities and conversation/journal prompts designed to support all four parts of gratitude. This gives you many options for helping your kids learn about being grateful. More gratitude means a happier, healthier world! You can find out more and purchase your own Grateful Family Pack here.