Updated: Feb 22, 2022
Fostering gratitude in our children doesn’t just benefit our family, it benefits all of us. Raising chiho are grateful enhances mindfulness, connection, compassion and altruism. At a time when many people are not at their best, a dose of gratitude creates space for positive engagement. (See Gratitude for the Little Things 5/22/2020 and Make Room for Gratitude 5/14/2020 for more thoughts on gratitude.)
Thanksgiving and the holidays are a natural time to lean into gratitude, but parents and families can cultivate a culture of gratitude year around. We can do this in a number of ways:
• Model gratitude by talking about it and practicing it in our daily life. Teach children about the many ways that gratitude can be expressed – verbally, in writing (personal journaling or notes to others), prayer, small gifts or tokens of appreciation, and making time to reflect on what is good in our lives. A gratitude practice may also include volunteer work or community giving. Creating family rituals that incorporate gratitude and make sharing and giving back a part of life reinforces that being thankful is an intentional process, a strength to be nurtured, and valued in your family.
• Expect mutuality from our children. Mutuality is the idea that relationships are not just one sided, but reciprocal, and interactions are not only organized around our children’s wants and needs. Ensuring that children are not just on the receiving end in family relationships fosters the notion that they have the capacity to be empathetic, connected and generous in the service of others' needs. They learn that they are worthy of caretaking and develop the habit of giving back. Mutuality also means expecting gratitude and that our children acknowledge acts of kindness and everyday courtesies. Saying no to children from time to time, and setting reasonable limits, is another component of mutuality that reinforces that the time, attention, and resources they enjoy are blessings to be grateful for, rather than something they are simply entitled to.
• Foster a growth mindset. A growth mindset lends itself to gratitude because when we run into difficulties this way of thinking shifts from a focus on what isn’t working to what is going well. A growth mindset recognizes the opportunity in challenges and sees setbacks as a necessary element of learning, an opportunity for growth, and for stretching our existing abilities. This way of thinking invites us to see the potential for good in situations where we may not be expecting to feel grateful. By seeking the positive in even the most difficult moments, we reinforce our gratitude practice, as well as our optimism and resilience.
• Embrace an abundance orientation, rather than a scarcity orientation. Similar to a growth mindset, an abundance mentality allows us to see more choices, resources and opportunities in our lives, rather than limitations. While a scarcity mentality focuses on limitations and fosters a fear of not having enough, an abundance mentality encourages celebrating others’ successes and sharing our opportunities, ideas, time and resources because they are not finite and don’t need to be kept to ourselves. We can develop an abundance mindset by choosing to see opportunity, reminding ourselves that there is more than enough, choosing carefully the people we surround ourselves with, making time and space for reflection, and giving more of what we want to receive.
Scarcity thinking shows up in the same way as lack of gratitude: through entitlement, an expression of appreciation that is superficial, and seeing challenging situations, others' success or a higher power as punitive. It fuels a preoccupation with what others have compared to you, and undermines collaboration, cooperation and generosity.
• Communicate your values and sense of purpose. Help your child think critically about the world around him and what is most important in creating a meaningful life. Encourage them to shift their focus from activities related to status, consumption or performance to those that enhance cooperation, affiliation, and the recognition that they are part of a larger community. Explore how their values and strengths may be shared with others to contribute to a common good. As children develop competencies that reflect their values, help them to recognize who and what opportunities have been essential in helping them develop. Teaching children to give their time and talents to others, connects them to a broader purpose and fosters kindness and connection. This applies to community giving and big causes, as well as the routine household and family responsibilities that positively impact their own families and give our kids a sense of agency.
Now is a good time to be grateful.