Gratitude: Advocacy for the Well-Being of Children and Families
Most parents are already teaching their children manners, to say “thank you” when they receive something or when someone does something for them, but teaching kids gratitude is much more than that. In recent years, practicing gratitude has garnered a lot of attention thanks to numerous celebrities and researchers boasting its benefits. So, if you are wondering how to instill gratitude with your kids and why it is important for family well being, you’re not alone.
The Benefits of Gratitude
Before we dive into how you can establish a gratitude practice with your children, you’d probably like to know why you should devote the time to doing so. In fact, there are several reasons you will find this a worthwhile endeavor. Some of the most prominent benefits of practicing gratitude include1:
- Improving Your Health Research has shown that being grateful has positive effects on both physical and mental health. A 2012 study in Personality and Individual Differences found that those individuals who practiced gratitude regularly reported fewer aches and pains, even going so far as to say they felt healthier overall. Additionally, grateful people have been found to physically take better care of themselves, including exercising consistently and attending regular doctor’s appointments. Mentally, leading gratitude researcher Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., has confirmed that gratitude increases happiness and reduces depression.
- Making You More Likable Beyond simply expressing good manners, showing appreciation and gratitude for others has been found to increase the likelihood of relationships being formed between individuals. Similarly, research shows that grateful people are less likely to show aggression and retaliate against others, even when subjected to negative emotions or behaviors. Perhaps this is a result of their increased sensitivity and empathy toward others.
- Increasing Self-Esteem Several studies have found that practicing gratitude is linked to increases in self-esteem. More specifically, gratitude seems to reduce social comparisons, allowing those individuals to appreciate others’ accomplishments without feeling resentful, a major associated with self-esteem.
- Enhancing Resilience Finally, research has shown that gratitude reduces stress and increases resilience in overcoming stressful or traumatic events. In other words, recognizing and being thankful for all you have can help you navigate the harder times in your life.
Of course, as parents, we would all love to raise children who are well-liked, kind, resilient, empathetic, and healthy with positive self-esteem. But how do we do it?
Practicing Family Gratitude
Depending on your children’s age, you will want to approach establishing a gratitude practice in different ways. However, that is not to say it is ever too early to start. Here are some of our favorite ways to start a family gratitude practice:
Be a Model
Most young children are sponges and take cues about how they are supposed to behave from the adults around them. So, one of the best ways to teach your children to be grateful is to be grateful! Plus, this won’t just be for their sake, as you will reap the benefits of the practice for yourself. This could mean showing your appreciation to others outside the home, your spouse or partner, other relatives, and especially your children themselves. Thank them when they clean their room, when they give you a hug, when they help their sibling, etc. Whenever you see your kids doing something you appreciate, express gratitude toward them. You’ll model the behavior, and they will learn how good it feels to be on the receiving end of someone’s gratitude.
Volunteer or Help Others
Find age-appropriate ways for your family to volunteer or help others in your community. There are many ways to help others, and chances are you can find something that aligns with your kids’ interests. Do they like being outside? Help with a park cleanup or planting a community garden. Do they love meeting new people? Take them to socialize with elderly residents at a retirement home. The possibilities are nearly endless. The important thing is they will learn how much little things they do can make a big difference for someone else and be appreciated by those around them.
Whether or not your children are old enough to write, have them keep a gratitude journal. To do this, have them write down a few things each day that they are grateful for. These don’t have to be big things and could be something as simple as being thankful for the cookie they had that day. Even the little things can add up to make a significant impact over time. If your little ones can’t write yet, sit down with them and write for them. You can even keep your own gratitude journal too!
So there you have it! Three simple ways you can teach gratitude for kids and enhance your family well being. One of the best parts about practicing gratitude is that over time it will become natural for the younger children to notice all the things around them that they have to be grateful for. Plus, it’s free to get started, so why wait?
Jose A. Ramos Jr., Director of Prevention
Jose A. Ramos Jr., MSW, is the Director of Primary Prevention at Children’s Bureau. He has worked with Children’s Bureau since 1994 and has over 30-years of experience working in the Child Welfare field. He has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Long Beach and is earning his MBA. Jose is also Secretary of the National Association of Social Workers.