How are you modeling a grateful life to your children?

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Photo by rustiqueart, used under Creative Commons license.

There are two words that you’ll probably hear a lot this time of year (especially this week, if you live in the United States): grateful and thankful. The internet is filled with all kinds of artwork and preachy articles extolling you to make sure you’re doing your best to exhibit each both of these qualities — but depending on what is or isn’t going on in your life, they’re not always easy words to live by.

I recently read an article from 2011 that discussed how teaching kids to be grateful can have long-term benefits for them. According to the piece, one of the best ways to teach your kids to be grateful is to model this behavior on your own — and to mean it. Of course this is easier said than done — every day doesn’t lend itself to shouting from the rooftop about how thankful you are to experience it (though I doubt anyone has every complained about being TOO thankful for their lives).

I’ve often thought it’s one thing to make a craft that shows how thankful you are, and it’s another to really be out there, finding something in your life to appreciate every day. While reading the article it occurred to me that it’s pretty easy to model thankfulness to my kid — even something as simple as saying “I’m so happy we get to see how beautiful the leaves are this year — I’m just so thankful to have the experience” could do the trick. It had me wondering: in what ways do you guys model being thankful and grateful to your kids — and how do they model the behaviors to you?

Comments on How are you modeling a grateful life to your children?

  1. My cousin and her daughter have a “grateful for” list, and they add to it every time they think of something else that they are thankful for. Her daughter is only four, but I think it helps her realize how lucky she is to have all the experiences and things that she does.

  2. My parents did this in a very simple way: politeness. My mom made a point of every time somebody handed her something, even fast food over the counter, she says “thank you very much.” When she ordered the food, she always phrased it as “May I please have…” That made a big impression on me. It taught that, first, you are essentially asking somebody to assist you, not demanding it. It also taught that gratitude starts on the tiniest level and works up, not the other way around. So that’s really how I want to start with my children.

    • This! We’re Canadian so voicing certain things (apologies, thanking someone etc.) is a part of the culture, but it can sometimes slip in the home or with increasing familiarity. My husband and I make a point to be polite to one another and to thank one another for things. It’s habit now, for better or worse, and I am so happy that we’re already in the habit of voicing how we feel and integrating thankfulness into our everyday language so that our kid sees it as normal.

      I think this is a great first step, but hope that we can extend this to things that aren’t just being done for us, but to things that make us happy or make our lives better. I remember on road trips, my parents would look out the window and say “we are so lucky to live here – look at how beautiful this is.”

  3. though i have spent lots of time being an entitled, pouty, self pitying depressed person, i’ve also been grateful. i thank my parents for that, and for saying grace at the table, which i hated when i got to be an anti-Christian teenager…now i liked raising a toast during dinner sometimes. “Here’s to this great food, and our awesome house, and our beautiful family!”

    best way to motivate gratitude: travel with your children, or take them out of fortunate circumstances and let them see what else is out there. “waah, i’m only allowed to watch an hour of TV” seems ridiculous even to an 8-year-old if yesterday she walked through a poverty stricken village in central america.

  4. This is so important to me because my mum did such an amazing job at this with us growing up. She always would point out the beautiful sunset or the sound of the birds singing in the morning. She was (and is) always polite and raised us to be as well. I try really hard to show my little ones these same examples…pointing out something beautiful while out for a walk, telling them how happy I am to have them in my life, giving their Dad a long kiss when the mood strikes. We also hold hands and sing a little song of graditude before we eat our supper together and talk about where our food came from (we’re lucky enough to know some of our farmers so we can name them and the kids know who we are talking about) and how lucky we are to have it. Our son is 3 1/2 and he already voices his appreciation for things by saying things like “The leaves are so green, I like that” and “You’re doing really great at stiring that cookie dough”. It’s actually kind of hilarious.

  5. Interesting… I never thought explicitly about instilling gratitude, but I think this is something I’ve subconsciously focused on a lot. For example, I try to tell my (13-month-old) daughter when I’m grateful for something she does (for example, when she’s happy during a car ride, I tell her about what a pleasure it was to be in the car with her). When I model saying goodbye, I also talk about the great time we had (i.e., “Bye bye cows! We had a really great time looking at you today!) because I’d like her to grow up focusing on the pleasure she got from something instead of just focusing on the fact that it’s ending. I also try to say “thank you” (instead of “good job”) to HER when she gives me something or does something nice, and of course I also try to be kind and polite in my own life, in my dealings with other people. We also just started doing “sweet time” as part of our bedtime routine, when I talk about all the good things that happened to us that day. She’s just beginning to talk, and no “thank you’s” yet, but hopefully this helps her grow up focusing on being kind and on appreciating the good things all around her!

  6. I think my sibs and I were conditioned to be optimists. Whenever one of us got whiny or negative, our mom would demand to hear five things we were thankful for. More importantly, she showed us how to be grateful by always noticing and celebrating small pleasures. I don’t know if I do this as well with my daughter as she did with me.

  7. While I think it’s great to be thankful for people and things in your life, sometimes people trying to be “thankful” come across as bragging about their lives, especially with all of the classist/social position-oriented “I’m thankful for” statuses I keep seeing on my Facebook news feed. In my honest opinion, this has often given people an excuse to shout from the rooftops about how damn great their lives are and how many material possessions they own compared to everyone else. As a result, I believe people need to be careful HOW they are expressing their thankfulness and not just WHAT exactly they’re thankful for.

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