By Monisha Vasa, M.D.
A perspective of gratitude is one of the greatest gifts we can offer to our children. Gratitude gives children a more thankful attitude as they move through life, improving their overall happiness and well-being into adolescence and adulthood. Fortunately, encouraging gratitude in kids does not have to take lots of time and effort.
Here are some “Get Grateful Quick” strategies to try with your family:
Make gratitude a family affair: Children learn by imitation, and are more likely to learn from what they see us do, rather than what we tell them to do. Make it a point to incorporate gratitude into your daily routine as a family. For example, start by telling your children what you feel particularly thankful for as you drive them to school in the morning, or tuck them into bed at night. They will naturally follow suit. Moments like these become opportunities for connection and conversation and help to encourage a daily practice of being thankful. It is important not to force the issue if they are not immediately interested. Just continue articulating your own gratitude; you will still be demonstrating an important idea that they will absorb over time.
Make gratitude tangible: It can help children to be able to visualize the idea of gratitude, to make it a more concrete concept for them. For example, a fun idea for children is a “Happy Jar.” As a family, write down on a piece of paper what made each person feel particularly happy that day. Fold the papers up and drop them into the jar. They can be taken out and shared at the end of a week, month, or year, as a way to remember all of the pleasurable moments that were experienced over time. Other ideas include reading children’s books that foster gratitude, or creating a gratitude journal together.
Make gratitude simple: It is helpful to remind our kids that we can be grateful for the simplest of things in life. For example, we might point out a particularly sunny day, a delicious strawberry, or a good grade at school. Although these might seem like simple everyday occurrences, the act of noticing the small pleasures in life can help to cultivate joy. We want to teach our children that we often take important blessings like running water, food, and even our health for granted. We also want them to learn that, although we can be grateful for “big” moments like trips to Disneyland or a special birthday party, that most often, a meaningful gratitude practice comes from paying attention to the beauty in ordinary moments.
It can be challenging to learn concepts such as mindfulness, compassion, and gratitude as adults. Encouraging these behaviors from a young age can help provide a strong foundation for our children. The fundamentals of resilience and well-being begin in childhood. Let’s help our children, and ourselves, by sharing the importance of gratitude in creating a happy, healthy life.
Monisha Vasa, M.D. is a board certified General and Addiction Psychiatrist in private practice in Orange County, CA. Dr. Vasa is the author of the non-fiction children’s books, My Dearest One and Saying Thank You. She is also a marathon runner and a student of yoga and meditation. Learn more about Dr. Vasaat http://monishavasa.com/ and read her blog on The Huffington Post.