How to teach your kids to be grateful

Want your child to be grateful for what she has? Whether your kids are tots or teens, check out our expert tips to help them understand all they have to be thankful for.

By Simone Paget

How to teach your kids to be grateful
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With Thanksgiving just around the corner, gratitude is on many of our minds. Learning to be grateful is an essential part of living a happy life and it's something that can easily be instilled in children from a very young age.

To learn more about teaching gratitude we turned to Allison Bates, a registered clinical counsellor and the owner of Westcoast Counselling Services in Vancouver.

"Teaching children about gratitude is important because it helps them to not have a sense of entitlement and to appreciate what they have," she explains.

Here she shares some simple, yet helpful tips on how to teach your children to be grateful -- just in time for turkey dinner.

1. Start teaching your kids early
Children can begin to grasp the concept of being thankful even as toddlers. This is why it's important to start teaching them about gratitude from the get-go, says Bates. But keep in mind that your kids' ideas of gratitude will change as they grow up.

"The language and how it is discussed can evolve and change as they get older," Bates explains. "It's also important to note toddlers are developmentally in a stage where they are self-centred -- so keep your expectations reasonable and look at the bigger, long-term picture. Teaching about gratitude is a long-term goal, not something that can be done in one sitting."

2. Practise being thankful on a daily basis
Teaching your children about gratitude is something that can easily be worked into your everyday life as a family.

"For example, using manners and saying "thank you" when you or your child receives something is a good start," says Bates. Children are always looking to their caregivers as role models, so it's important that you as a parent behave in a way you would like your children to pick up, she notes.

Bates also suggests having a moment every day -- either at the end of the day, at the dinner table or at bedtime -- where you share what you were thankful, happy or grateful for that day.

"This can help your child reflect on their day and, if it's part of their routine, they also begin to look for things they are thankful for so they can talk about it at the end of the day," she explains.

3. Don't be afraid to say "no" to your kids
It's natural to want to give things to your children and make them happy; however practising saying "no" is an important aspect of teaching kids about gratitude.

"If you are always giving into your child's wants, they don't learn to appreciate when they do get something they really want," says Bates.

When children get whatever they want, they develop feelings of self-entitlement, she explains. Saying "no" not only teaches them about gratitude, but it shapes the ways they see the world and encourages them to interact within it in a more positive way.

4. Focus on experiences, not stuff
"The more we give our children, the less they appreciate." If you've caught yourself saying or thinking something similar, Bates suggests switching your focus to experiences rather than material things. Children generally value time with their loved ones and experiences more than things, she explains.

"I would also suggest looking into an experience where your child donates some of their belongings to a less fortunate family or volunteers in some capacity depending on their age," she says. "By doing these things – having conversations and asking them what they learned from these experiences – you are teaching them gratitude."

5. Prioritize teaching gratitude
Teaching gratitude is an important part of parenting, so it's a good idea to make it a habit. "It creates socially conscious, caring individuals that are aware of others and their perspectives," says Bates.

Teaching gratitude also shows your child how to put themselves in another person's shoes, she explains. "This is a very important skill," Bates says.

It's not always easy to remember the fact that Thanksgiving is less about the turkey and the gravy and more about focusing on what we have to be thankful for. By all means enjoy the tasty spread, but also take some time to stress the importance of gratitude to your children.


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