Sowing Seeds of Gratitude with Your Children

By Michelle Salcedo, M.Ed., Sunshine House Chief Academic Officer

Recently, a friend of mine turned her Facebook page into a gratitude journal. Every day, before she went to bed, she posted five things for which she was grateful. These items ranged from big (I am grateful that I have two wonderful and healthy children) to small (caramel, need I say more?). Living out this exercise with her, and the fact Thanksgiving is right around the corner, got me thinking about gratitude.

The dictionary defines gratitude as “the quality or feeling of being thankful.” Numerous studies have found that there are great physical, physiological and emotional benefits to living a life of gratitude. A study at the University of California, Davis found that those that focus on the things for which they are grateful are less likely to get sick, less bothered by aches and pains, and sleep better. They are also more likely to describe themselves as “happy” and they take greater joy in life. Socially, those that are grateful are more helpful, compassionate, forgiving and less likely to describe themselves as “lonely.”  When we think about our children’s futures, aren’t these all traits we would wish for them?

While Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, cultures around the world designate certain days for pausing and giving thanks. Having a special day to gather with loved ones and say “thank you” for blessings is important. However, to reap the physical and emotional benefits of gratitude, it must become a lifestyle. Now is the time to cultivate a spirit of gratitude in your child. It is easier to maintain those habits formed in childhood than to learn new ways to behave as an adult. There are simple things that you can do to help your child focus on, and be grateful for the positive things in his/her life.

  1. Instead of asking the question, “what did you do at school today” challenge your child to “tell me three good things that happened today.”
  2. Be intentional about sharing your own gratitude. Verbalize with your child the things for which you are grateful. Be specific about what you see or experience that inspires a sense of gratitude in you.
  3. Start a family gratitude journal. Challenge each person to add one item to the list every day. Review these items periodically as a family.
  4. Create a gratitude jar. Every time a family member notices something for which he is grateful, he can add a pebble to the jar. When the jar is full, plan a special family evening or outing.
  5. Spread the gratitude to others. Find different ways to say “thank you” for the impact that others have on your daily life. Leave a thank you card for the mail carrier. Have your child help craft a “thank you” email to someone for whom they are grateful.
  6. Help your child be grateful for what she has by helping those who have less. Support your child in collecting books, toys, clothes, or other items that she no longer plays with or can wear. Box these up and go together to deliver them to a shelter or other charity.

Alphonse Karr said, “Some people grumble that roses have thorns. I am grateful that thorns have roses.” You can choose to focus on the prickliness of the thorns in life, or you can look for and celebrate the beauty of the roses that invariably accompany the thorns. Studies tell us that those who focus on thorns will find more thorns, while those who focus on beauty are more likely to find it. There is lots of beauty and good in the world. Pause for a moment and help your child see and be grateful for it.