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2 Ways to Practice Gratitude with Your Children

By Matt O'Grady

What is Gratitude

What is Gratitude

Gratitude is one of the most important skills you can teach your children. Not only does this practice reduce stress and increase happiness, it also provides children with the building blocks they need to create a meaningful life.

What makes gratitude a character strength and why does it matter for you to teach them this vital life practice? Let’s explore.

The character strength of gratitude involves feeling and expressing a deep sense of thankfulness in life, and more specifically, taking the time to genuinely express thankfulness to others. It is one of the character strengths that is associated with happiness and life satisfaction. It is about acknowledging the goodness in your life and appreciating things as small gifts.

Grateful people tend to look at their life experiences, and even their challenges, in a positive way. It’s a likable quality, so other people gravitate towards grateful individuals leading to many strong, quality relationships.

Gratitude is one of the character strengths within the virtue category of transcendence, which refers to strengths that help you connect to something greater. Gratitude—the ability to give to others without expecting something in return—is certainly a pillar of connecting to a greater purpose.

The Benefits of Being Grateful

Teaching gratitude to your children offers much more than the habit of saying "thank you" to others. Nurturing this strength early on is key in helping your children build a fulfilling life.

A Healthier Life

Instilling and nurturing this strength in your children can have immediate and noticeable effects on their life. Psychology Today reported that people who practice gratitude from a young age have “more social connections and fewer bouts of depression, which affects 20.9 million adults.” In addition, research by Dr. Robert Evans, one of the world’s leading experts on gratitude, suggests that there are measurable physical, psychological, and social benefits that come with gratitude throughout life. People who practice gratitude:

  • Feel better about their lives overall
  • Have fewer physical issues
  • Eat healthier and prioritize exercise
  • Sleep more soundly
  • Live almost seven years longer than the average person

Nurturing this practice in your children and treating it like the character strength it truly is can help manifest all of these benefits and ultimately help them create a more fulfilling life as they grow.

More Meaningful Relationships

Living life through transactional relationships is an empty existence. But when gratitude is involved, you’re more likely to form deep, lasting relationships with the people around you.

Teaching your children how to identify, understand, and express gratitude can help them build these types of relationships early on in life and throughout their lives. When you have a strong disposition for gratitude, it's easy to experience all the time.

This feeling extends toward people and experiences that have helped shape the existence that you occupy. And during any kind of positive life experience, someone with this character strength will undoubtedly find multiple people to be grateful for.

How to Practice Gratitude with your Children

There are several ways to help nurture gratitude as a character strength in your children. Below, you'll find two different exercises that can help your child better understand gratitude and how to measure their feelings of gratitude from day to day.

Understanding Gratitude

Gratitude is more than simply saying "thank you" when someone does something nice. It's a series of socio-emotional behaviors that typically happen in the following sequence:

  • Notice
  • Think
  • Feel
  • Do

The older your children get, the easier it will be for them to go through these motions without even thinking about it. But the more you focus on mindfulness, the better your gratitude practices will be. So in order to better understand a true act of gratitude, try going through these questions with your children to nurture their practice every time they receive something or feel thankful.

  • What do you notice in your life that you are grateful for? Did you receive a gift recently? Are the things you are thankful for material or are they feelings, like love?
  • Why do you think you’ve received the things you’re thankful for? Do you think you owe the giver something in return?
  • How does the gift you’ve received make you feel? What about this gift makes you feel good or happy?
  • What are you going to do to show how you feel about your gift? Does this gift make you want to share your feelings about it?

Eventually, these questions will be internalized and gratitude will be a part of how your children live their lives every day. As a parent, you have the ability to help your children build up this character strength.

Measuring Gratitude

There are a few ways you can measure gratitude, but the series of statements below can be a good indicator of feelings of gratitude.

  • I have a lot to be thankful for.
  • If I made a list of the things I'm grateful for, it would be really long.
  • I see a lot to be grateful for in the world.
  • I am grateful for a lot of people.
  • The older I get, the more I appreciate the people and events that brought me here.

If one of these statements doesn't ring entirely true as you and your children go through them, that could be an area where they're lacking confidence in their gratitude. For example, watching a lot of negative news could leave your children feeling that there's not a lot to be grateful for in the world. Making note of that and having a talk about all of the things in their world to be thankful for can help them see their true strength in feeling gratitude.

Gratitude Is an Important Character Strength

Gratitude is one of the most important skills we can teach our children. It provides them with a connection to something greater, helps them live a healthier life, and promotes deeper, more meaningful relationships with others.

To start the discussion, encourage your child to take the VIA Youth Survey so you both can see where the strength of gratitude appears in their strengths results. Once you start talking about gratitude with your children you will both begin to see more and more reasons to be grateful each and every day!