How Do We “Teach” Gratitude?

by Danielle Hines, Communications Director
“At the age of 18, I made up my mind to never have another bad day in my life. I dove into a endless sea of gratitude from which I’ve never emerged.”–Patch Adams
Thanksgiving is a time when families come together and share in their traditions of gathering and sharing a meal. Every household celebrates differently and there is beauty in traditions and the time allows us all to reflect. As adults we have our own innate feelings of gratitude and thankfulness for our family, our home, and all of our blessings. But how did we learn this feeling and how do we “teach” this to our children?
A social experiment was done in our 3-6 year old classrooms last year as we talked about all the things we are thankful for. A pretend dollar was given to each of the children. The teacher told the children to imagine that they felt hungry and had one dollar to buy an apple. “Would you buy the apple?”, she asked. Every child chose to buy the apple. She then asked, “Now think about all the yummy foods you have in your kitchen. Would you give one of your apples from your kitchen to a child who was feeling as hungry as you were?” Every single child gave their apple back to fill the basket to give to hungry children without hesitation. Giving and feeling gratitude is innate, we just have to keep the conversation relevant.
How can you possibly teach a child to feel thankful besides telling them that they should be thankful? While we don’t have a clear answer here, keeping constant communication is key. Be a constant role model–use manners, be honest about current events, conversate about your day at the dinner table, be open about feelings, and share your good fortune with others not so fortunate. Maria Montessori explained children between the age of 0-6 as “sponges”–they are absorbing EVERYTHING around them and we are their most important role models.
In an article published through Berkeley University from a study through their Raising Grateful Children project, they said that gratitude can be broken down in four parts:
What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful
How we THINK about why we have been given those things
How we FEEL about the things we have been given
What we DO to express appreciation in turn
The article states that children between the age of three and five begin to develop a sense of gratitude after they are able to see other perspectives and gain emotional knowledge. This is why keeping an open dialogue with your children about feelings is so important.
For more on this and the Raising Grateful Children Project, click here.
Simple Ways to Instill Gratitude at Home
  • Say “thank you”–There is so much beauty in those two simple words.
  • Model grateful behavior
  • Set shopping expectations–“Today is a ‘look’ day.”
  • Make giving back a habit rather than a chore–practice regular book and toy donations and pick a special volunteer activity that the entire family can enjoy and make it a tradition.
  • Have a Grateful Meal–Play the “Rose and Thorn” game. The “Rose” is your favorite part of your day; the “Thorn” is your not so fun part of your day; and the “Bud” is something you are looking forward to tomorrow.
  • Thank those in our Community–bake for your local firemen or bring goodie baskets to the nurses at your local hospital
  • Read books that express the feeling of gratitudeThe Giving TreeThankfulHave You Filled a Bucket Today?Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed
tmswebHow Do We “Teach” Gratitude?