What does it mean to be grateful? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of this adjective is ‘showing or expressing thanks, especially to another person.’ As adults, we often do this without a second thought, most of the time. The question is how and why do we do this? Is it something that we learn from an early age or just part of being polite?
Children learn by example, which means they pick up habits and behaviors from their environment. As a parent, teacher, carer or someone with the responsibility of leading by example, when it comes to children there are several ways to know when and how to teach a child to be thankful and grateful.
Thank you: It all starts with this one word. As a child’s language develops thank you is a word they learn from early on. As an adult, teaching this word can be more than just when to say it, the true meaning behind the world should be explored. If a child can understand that thanks is linked to being grateful and appreciative of something they will better understand what it means to be grateful for what they have rather than focus on what they don’t have. According to Parent Magazine, teaching children the true meaning behind thank you, it is more than just a word. It can also lead to your child developing into a more optimistic and happy adult. Life coach Mary Jane Ryan author of Attitude of Gratitude (1999) states that ‘Recognizing that someone has gone out of the way for you is not a natural behavior for children—it’s learned.’ Therefore, it is key that as role models we aid this learning.
Show it in your actions: Back to the point that children learn by examples and behaviors they see around them. If you, yourself, can show your child thankfulness and gratitude in your own actions, the child will be able to link theory to practice and real life further. For example, you could thank your child for remembering to do something. It could be as simple as tidying their room, taking out the trash, small chores around the house. This will not only show your child when and how to express gratitude and thanks (when someone has done something for you), it will also help to install the need to be responsible, and remember duties that they are obliged to do.
Create a weekly or daily time to express thanks: Probably one of the most powerful ways to teach gratefulness and gratitude to a child is to actively engage them in the process on a regular occurrence. It could be that on the drive home from school, on the way to do the weekly shop or even while having dinner you ask your child directly ‘what are you most grateful and happy for today or this week?’ This will allow your child to reflect on what it is that they are thankful for and respond. In addition, if your child is aware that at some point during the week or day they will be asked to reflect on what they have to be thankful for, they will start to engage their thoughts positively in this direction more often in anticipation for your question.
Teach the true meaning: Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated in the USA, Canada, Liberia and some of the Caribbean islands. It began as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of a harvest. It could be suggested that if your child understands how this national holiday came around, they will be more in tune with why it is important to be thankful in life. Take the time to teach your child about this national holiday and the meaning behind it.
Volunteer with your child: Volunteering is a chance to show your child what it means to work without expecting a big payback, it is about the participation and doing or giving that makes a difference. Obviously, there will need to be a balance with this approach. Your child cannot walk through life as an adult one hundred percent working for free, they will never survive! Clearly, they need compensation in terms of paid work. However, the point is to learn when and how to carve time out of a busy schedule where there are a million things to do to give something back to those that are less fortunate. You could also make this a special occasion or event that you and your child participate in at a certain time of year. There are many opportunities to volunteer you can find them mainly by researching online. Websites such as do-it.org is a wonderful place to start. You can put in your key information and search for a small volunteering project for you and your child to engage in. Or do a simple Google search on volunteering.
What are the benefits of being grateful and thankful?
- It will open more doors for your child as a person. Being thankful and grateful will allow your child to see what is in front of them, and then recognise a golden opportunity when it presents itself. If they can recognise this, they are less likely to turn a blind eye to an opportunity.
- It can help make new friends. It is part of being a good Everyone wants to be friends with a good kind-hearted person. People who come across cold and unemotional generally find it hard to build genuine, lasting friendships.
- It will improve physical and mental health. Gratefulness is a state of mind, it is positive and therefore will help to keep a person’s spirits up when times are challenging. This positive attitude can help a child develop into a resilient adult where the glass is always half full rather than half empty.
- Helps to improve self-esteem, which is a bonus for your child’s development. People with a good level of self-esteem are less likely to become resentful towards others or jealous. Resentment and jealousy are negative emotions and do not bring out the best in people. It can also lead to poor decision making and bad life choices. This is because the focus is elsewhere, not on what a person has but what they feel they do not have. This can lead to going to extremes that could be unhealthy or dangerous to achieve something they want.
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