Once your child remembers to say “thank you” on a regular basis, it can be time to dig a little deeper to ensure that they aren’t just going through the socially-prescribed motions of saying “Thank you.” Start having conversations about what it means to be thankful, and take their understanding of gratitude to a whole new level by incorporating more gratitude components.
The Raising Grateful Children Project at UNC Chapel Hill has revealed that gratitude has four parts:
- Noticing – Recognizing the things you have to be grateful for.
- Thinking – Thinking about why you’ve been given those things.
- Feeling – The emotions you experience as a result of the things you’ve been given.
- Doing – The way you express appreciation.
Researchers found that most parents stayed focused on what children do to show gratitude. While 85% of parents said they prompted their kids to say “thank you,” only 39% encouraged children to show gratitude in a way that went beyond good manners. In addition, only a third of parents asked their kids how a gift made them feel, and only 22% asked why they thought someone had given them a gift.
Researchers from UNC encourage parents to ask kids questions to help foster a deeper sense of gratitude. Here are some questions that can help kids experience all four gratitude components:
- Notice – What do you have in your life to be grateful for? Are there things to be grateful for beyond the actual gifts someone has given you? Are you grateful for any people in your life?
- Think – What do you think about this present? Do you think you should give something to the person who gave it to you? Do you think you earned the gift? Do you think the person gave you a gift because they thought they had to or because they wanted to?
- Feel – Does it make you feel happy to get this gift? What does it feel like inside? What about this gift makes you feel happy?
- Do – Is there a way to show how you feel about this gift? Does the feeling you have about this gift make you want to share this feeling by giving to someone else?
Whenever your child receives a physical gift or someone shows kindness to them, strike up a conversation that helps them experience more gratitude. You also might start conversations that show how you both think, feel, and respond to the people and gifts you’re grateful for in your life.
Establish a Gratitude Ritual
Make it a habit to regularly express gratitude in your family. Here are some examples of rituals you might establish:
- Everyone takes turns during dinner sharing one thing they’re grateful for from their day.
- At bedtime, you ask each child to say three things they feel grateful for.
- During the car ride to school, everyone thanks someone else in the car for something.
- Each Sunday night at dinner, everyone discusses how they’ll express gratitude and who they’ll express it to over the course of the week.
- Every Saturday morning, everyone writes a note of appreciation to someone for a specific reason.
Although it might seem like gratitude should be spontaneous rather than rehearsed, making gratitude a habit can ensure that kids practice it on a regular basis, and it can become like second-nature.
Look for the Silver Lining
Help your kids see that something good can come from difficult circumstances. If a soccer game gets rescheduled due to rain, talk about the bright side of the situation. Say something like, “Well at least we don’t have to be outside in the cold. We can play board games together instead and that will be fun.”
You might also point out how to be grateful for what you had, even when it’s no longer here. For example, you might say, “It’s really sad our fish died but I’m grateful we got to have him for six months.” Of course you don’t want to sound uncaring and callous but you can make it clear that you can be both grateful and sad at the same time while honoring a loss.
Ask questions that help your child discover the potential silver lining in a tough situation. Ask, “What’s something good that could come from something hard like this?”
In a really tough situation, asking that question too soon might seem insensitive (like 10 minutes after failing a test). So you might give it some time before encouraging your child to look on the bright side. But helping your child do this often, you’ll teach them to begin doing it on their own and they’ll start to see that they have a lot to be grateful for, even on their worst days.
Make Gentle Reminders
When you notice yourself grumbling about a negative event or stressor in your life, try to think of 4 or 5 related things for which you are grateful. For example, when feeling stressed at work, try to think about several things that you like about your job. You can do the same with relationship stress, financial stress, or other daily hassles.
The more you gently remind yourself of the positives, the more easily a shift toward gratitude can occur.
Be Careful With Comparisons
Many people cause themselves unnecessary stress by making comparisons. More specifically, they cause themselves stress by making the wrong comparisons. They compare themselves only to those who have more, do more, or are in some way closer to their ideals, and allow themselves to feel inferior instead of inspired. In cultivating gratitude, you have one of two options if you find yourself making such comparisons: You can either choose to compare yourself to people who have less than you (which reminds you how truly rich and lucky you are), or you can feel gratitude for having people in your life who can inspire you. Either road can lead away from stress and envy, and closer to feelings of gratitude. Here are some more strategies for minimizing the stress of social comparison on social media.