gift of gratitude
It happens every year. You say you are not going to get caught up in the commercialism of Christmas, but you end up spending loads of money on presents to make sure your kids have “the best Christmas ever.” They open their gifts in a manic frenzy, and then, the next thing you know, it’s all over.
Are they grateful? Yes. But not for long!
How do we get our kids to stay grateful? Or better yet, how do we cultivate a grateful mindset in our children without having to give them something first?
Why is this an important question? Well, it turns out, gratitude is an important component to a physically, emotionally and socially healthy and satisfying life! More specifically, research has shown that a grateful mindset in both adults and children increases happiness, life satisfaction and resilience, improves sleep and overall health, and reduces anxiety and depression.
So this holiday season, give your kids the gift of gratitude with these simple but effective strategies:
1—Teach Them Different Ways to Express Thanks
The tradition of the thank-you note is practically extinct; you’re lucky to get a thank-you text these days. But the practice of thanking people is an essential component of gratitude. You don’t have to go down the Martha Stewart pathway. There are all kinds of ways to give thanks: saying “thank you,” thank-you stickers, thank-you hugs, thank-you phone calls, thank-you gifts, thank-you help — see if your kids can come up with some new and creative ways to thank others.
2—Have Daily Gratitude Conversations
When you talk to your kids, ask questions that lead to a grateful perspective. You can do this by making it part of a daily ritual, for example, during a family meal to ask everyone to name one thing that they were grateful for that day. Or try a more subtle approach by asking your kids what the best part of their day was in casual conversation. You can also model a grateful mindset by telling them what or who you were thankful for that day. Whichever methods you choose, here are some tips to make it as effective as possible: make sure you and your children choose something different every day, remember the simple things (a song, the weather, a smile) and use humor and storytelling to make your conversations more memorable.
3—Be Secret Santa All Year Round!
Random acts of kindness boost your mood, make you feel more connected to others, and can be really fun! Challenge your kids to do one nice thing for someone every day. They can be as simple or creative as they want: give a compliment, write a nice note, donate a book, comfort someone, give up your place in line for someone, offer to help someone at school or at home, give someone a flower. Keep it fresh by encouraging them to do something different every day. Remember to model kindness for your kids — not only is observing others one of the most powerful ways that children learn, research has also shown that witnessing kindness has the same benefits as giving and receiving kindness on physical and emotional health! Go to www.randomactofkindness.org for more kindness ideas.
4—Create a Family Gratitude Archive
The New Year is a great time to start new traditions — especially one that will improve the health and well-being for the whole family! First, find a nice container, like a gift box, and buy different color notecards for each family member. Anytime someone feels grateful for something or someone, they write it down on their notecard and put in the box. After a period of time, the family reads all the notecards together. You can decide whether you want to do this weekly or monthly, or whether you want to make it your special Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve family tradition.
It’s easy to get frustrated by your children’s demands and lack of appreciation. You might find yourself saying things like: “You should be more grateful!” “You don’t know how lucky you are!” “Other kids don’t have anything!” But comparisons are rarely an effective strategy to motivate a change in attitude and can leave kids feeling guilty or anxious rather than fostering appreciation and altruism. Instead, show them how they can make a difference in others’ lives through thoughtful and generous acts, like actively participating in fundraising opportunities, wrapping presents to put under giving trees at school, or teaching them to allocate a certain percentage of their pocket money to a charity of their choosing (a special piggy bank for donations could be a great gift!). It’s one thing to say, “You should be more grateful,” and it’s another to show them how. It is through giving back that they will truly understand how fortunate they are.
And finally, apply all of these strategies to yourself. It’s been a tough year for everyone; show your children by your actions, not just by your words, how gratitude can lift your spirits and enrich your life.
Wishing you all a safe and healthy holiday season and New Year!