As a parent, there may be certain things we’re just used to hearing from our kids.
“I do NOT like broccoli.”
“Give it to me.”
“I really need that book/Barbie/Truck right now!”
We think: “They’re just kids being kids.” But these comments are rooted in an underdeveloped attitude of gratitude. Sure, you’ve taught them to say “thank you,” but being grateful is deeper and more meaningful, and is a trait that must be taught, reinforced, and lived every day. Some adults have figured this out (many are still learning), but it’s all too easy to look at these tiny humans who live in our homes and think they’re just too young to understand the depth of such a concept.
Monisha Vasa, M.D. board certified psychiatrist and author of the new children’s book My Dearest One, believes there is no such thing as “too young” when it comes to gratitude. She emphasizes the importance of acquiring such a trait and wants parents to understand how easily it is begun in the home.
Dr. Vasa shares the following five tips you can begin using today to help your little ones exude gratitude:
- Start with cultivating your own gratitude practice: If we believe in the value of being thankful for all we are blessed with, our vision starts to shift. If our children see us connected and thankful, that energy will flow downstream toward them.
- Vocalize gratitude as part of an everyday conversation: Say it out loud. “I really appreciate being able to watch you play in your soccer game.” The more we say it out loud, the more we feel it in our bones.
- Discover gratitude even for the small things: Children inherently are excited about both little and big things in life. Encourage gratitude for the small, mundane parts of life, not just the exciting Disney World moments. Sometimes, on difficult days, all we might be grateful for is another day on this Earth, or the beating of our heart. That is more than enough.
- Encourage downtime for reflection: Noticing is the first step toward counting our blessings. Ask your children questions about the enjoyable and difficult parts of their day, the “highs” and the “lows.” This can encourage a dialogue about both gratitude, as well as the struggles they are currently experiencing.
- Acknowledge the reality of their emotional experience: Kids, just like adults, won’t feel grateful for everything, all the time. It is a practice for all of us. Sometimes, we need to feel through the anger and sorrow of an experience, before we can come to a place of gratitude.
Gratitude, like everything else we teach as parents, is best done through emulation. What they see in you, they will do. While a somewhat daunting responsibility, it’s important to keep in mind that not everyone is “on” all the time. So, just remember that your attempts to perfect gratitude is seen by them as well, and it’s something everyone can work on together.
Also, remember that, if you can work on such lessons by incorporating fun into the equation, children are more likely to be patterned for success. Dr. Suess books are full of gratitude-geared verses that can be used as tools in the home. For example: “You ought to be thankful, a whole heaping lot, for the places and people you’re lucky you’re not.” Read more on the inspiration you can draw from Dr. Seuss at Mamiverse.
Attaching reward to behavior is also an effective approach. A gratitude jar is a tool that allows children to earn candy, coins, or other incentives for demonstrating a manner or attitude. Pinterest is a great place to find similar suggestions.
The key, of course, is incorporation, consistency, and repetition, for every family member.
“Grace isn’t a little prayer you chant before receiving a meal. It’s a way to live.” ~Attributed to Jacqueline Winspear
Monisha Vasa, M.D. is a board certified General and Addiction Psychiatrist in private practice in Orange County, CA. She is a Cum Laude graduate of Northwestern University, completed medical school at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, and her Psychiatry residency, Chief Residency, and Addiction Psychiatry fellowship at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Dr. Vasa resides in Orange County, CA with her husband, two beloved children and two English Bulldogs. She is also a marathon runner in addition to practicing yoga and meditation.