We live in a very external-focused world, where many people find themselves seeking the answer to the question, “What’s in it for me?” We hesitate to commit and say yes to requests or new responsibilities before carefully evaluating whether or not there will be a worthwhile benefit to us. Our children are not that different from us when it comes to the “What’s in it for me?” concept, and this can create challenges when it comes to being open to giving and receiving gratitude.
Our society prides itself in promoting and celebrating independence in children. We teach our children to make decisions for themselves and solve problems on their own. Yes, independence is a highly valuable skill that all children need to acquire, and it is definitely a skill that contributes to healthy self-esteem. Sometimes however, being “overly independent” can interfere with a true understanding of the meaning of gratitude, since gratitude is ultimately about looking outside of oneself, while independence is about focusing on yourself. Both independence and gratitude are important for children, but a healthy balance of both is what we’re after. It can be tricky, but having the awareness that they can actually work together will enable your child to discover powerful ways to build his or her confidence and self-esteem over time.
As a parent, you have been given a wonderful opportunity to nurture a “spirit of gratitude” in your child. You can teach your child to see the world as an abundant place, full of beautiful gifts and blessings. Your child can learn to expect success and happiness each day as they express gratitude in their lives. An “attitude of gratitude” means that gratitude is ultimately a choice that we make. It’s a conscious choice that invites us to slow down and take notice of all we have to be thankful for. Gratitude is so much more than just saying “thank you” (although that is a great place for children to begin!). Here are some other powerful ways that an attitude of gratitude can help your child reach their fullest potential.
Gratitude shifts your child’s attention away from the negative. We all have “bad days” and negative experiences in our lives; a practice of gratitude can help transform these negative feelings and experiences into positive ones. Your child can learn to choose how they want to feel, and a great way to do this is to encourage your child to ask the question, “What’s good about this?” This question is powerful because it instantly moves your child’s thinking away from victim-zone into a place of choice and empowerment. Encouraging your child to focus on the good in a negative situation puts them in control of the situation, which is a great self-esteem boost. The other great thing about asking this question is that it promotes positive problem-solving rather than ignoring or avoiding the problem situation.
Gratitude helps your child attract even more things to be grateful for. Gratitude is about having an “abundance mentality” instead of a “scarcity mentality.” When your child expresses gratitude for something they are choosing to see what is working well, which is a key ingredient for happiness in general. Expressing gratitude is like working a muscle. The more your child learns to do it, the better they get, and the more habitual it becomes to exercise this “gratitude muscle.” Once it becomes a habit, your child will begin looking for things for which to be grateful no matter what; and the more they look for, the more they will find. It’s a beautiful cycle for your child to be a part of; it’s the gift that keeps on giving, isn’t it?
So, how can you develop a gratitude practice for your child? I would suggest considering a gratitude practice in which the entire family can participate. Expressing gratitude as a family at the breakfast or dinner table can be a powerful way to connect at the beginning or end of each day. Another idea is to create a gratitude jar to which everyone in the family contributes. Notes of gratitude can be written up and placed in the jar. At the end of each day or week, your family can gather together and read the gratitude notes that everyone wrote—another wonderful way to connect and share all the good that everyone is experiencing.
Remember, gratitude is a choice that your child can learn to make. The rewards of committing to gratitude daily are tremendous and will support your child in feeling awesome about themselves and the wonderful life they get to live!