Why you need to teach your kids gratitude - and how to do it

Why you need to teach your children gratitude - and how to do it
Why you need to teach your children gratitude - and how to do it Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

Kids have a knack of letting you know when they want new toys and sometimes as a parent it feels like that's all they want – things. 

And you worry that they are too focused on material items.

But a University of Illinois study of 900 adolescents found by teaching your children gratitude it helped them become less materialistic.

As part of the study, they asked some participants to keep gratitude journals and others to just keep a daily activity journal for two weeks. At the end of the timeframe they were all given ten $1 bills for participating and told they could keep all the money or donate some or all of it to charity.

Participants who kept a daily gratitude journal donated more than two thirds of their money, while the others donated less than half.

Co-author Lan Nguyen Chaplin said the study showed that it was beneficial for kids to practice gratitude.

"Our findings show that it is possible to reduce materialism among young consumers, as well as one of its negative consequences (non-generosity), using a simple strategy – fostering gratitude for the things and people in their lives," Ms Chaplin said.

Valeria Ramirez, holistic health coach founder of The Well Nest agreed.

She said gratitude was a big part of her family life.

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"I practice gratitude with my five-year-old son daily where we say three things we are grateful for every morning and every evening," Ms Ramirez said.

"It's a really nice way to start and end the day."

She said she used the time to teach her son about others in the world doing it tough. 

"I talk to him about how there are children in the world that don't have toys, family, food, water and I ask him what he enjoys doing everyday. What makes him happy? What makes him feel safe?" she said.

"It's become our little ritual and a great way to connect and communicate with my child. 

"I hope he will feel joy in his heart for all the little things and remember that even when things get tough that we all have so much to be grateful for if we take a moment to pause and look around."

She also recommended families volunteered, have regular donation days, grow a garden, get (or befriend) a pet and communicated openly about feelings and the importance of seeing things from another person's perspective.

Omnipsych Clinical Psychologist Dr. Lillian Nejad said a grateful mindset in both adults and children increased happiness, life satisfaction and resilience, improved sleep and overall health, and reduced anxiety and depression. 

And as the research showed be les materialistic.

Dr Nejad recommended parents use five simple strategies to teach their children gratitude:

1. Teach them different ways to express thanks.

The practice of thanking people is an essential component of gratitude. Ask your kids to find new and creative ways to say thank you such as thank you post-its, thank you videos and thank you songs. 

2. Have daily gratitude conversations.

When you talk to your kids, ask questions that lead to a grateful perspective. You can do this directly by making it part of a daily ritual, for example, during a family meal ask everyone to name one thing that they were grateful for that day. Or indirectly, by chatting about the good parts of their day on the drive home from school.

3. Be secret Santa all year round.

Random acts of kindness boost your mood, make you feel more connected to others, and can be really fun. Challenge your kids to do one nice thing for someone everyday. And remember to model kindness for your kids too. 

4. Create a family gratitude archive.

Find a nice container and buy different coloured notecards for each family member. Anytime someone feels grateful for something or someone, they write it down on their notecard and put in the box. After a period of time, the family reads all the notecards together. 

5. Give back.

Show you kids how they can make a difference in others' lives through thoughtful and generous acts, like participating in a fundraising event or donating money. It is through giving back that they will truly understand how fortunate they are.