Raising grateful kids can be a challenge. It’s often hard to give perspective to a two-year-old, or convince a first grader why he doesn’t need yet another radio-controlled car to carelessly toss in his closet. With the holidays fast approaching, instilling gratitude is more important than ever. I want my kids to focus on how much they have to be grateful for, not how much shiny new stuff they “need.”
Here are a few strategies to keep gratitude in the forefront of your kids’ minds as the toy catalogs start rolling in.
1. Model contentment. I will never forget the Christmas my son asked for nothing. While writing a letter to Santa he told me that there was nothing he really needed or wanted, but to tell Santa to get an Elsa doll for his sister, because she really wanted that. I asked him if he was sure, and he looked at the presents under the tree and reiterated that he had enough. He was four and totally content.
I’ve often thought back to that year, wishing I could turn back the clock and freeze him in that moment of total gratitude for the things he already had. I realize now that the year he wanted nothing was also the year I dove deeply into minimalism. He had watched me donate hundreds, if not thousands, of items. He had heard me time and again say that I had so much more than I needed. That there was nothing I wanted for. I had enough.
Modeling contentment isn’t always easy, but it’s the surest way to set an example of gratitude for your kids.
2. Create a gratitude practice. I have long kept up a daily journaling gratitude practice where I list three things I am grateful for each day (some years I do a sentence of gratitude per day). I have always loved this practice, because it’s shown me that there are always bright spots even in the darkest days.
When I went through my miscarriage, I was grateful for a dark room to cry in while I waited for my prescription to be filled, or for a friend who brought Pho and held space for my grief. On happier days, I’ve been grateful for the sweet quiet moments with my kids, or for landing the job I thought was out of reach. Keeping this practice puts life into perspective. This same sort of practice is an excellent one for kids to follow. Even if they are too young to write it down themselves, parents can help jot down moments of gratitude each day for them. It gives you a glimpse into their lives and ends their day on a high note.
3. Give your time and resources to others. My kids and I are very fortunate to have more than everything we need. We’ve always had food on our table. We’ve always had a warm bed to come home to. Our life is comfortable.
However, that comfort sometimes makes it hard for my kids to have perspective. I don’t want to shove the suffering of the world in their faces, but looking for ways to help others is a good way to remind them of how good they have it. Giving our time and resources to others naturally cultivates gratitude, because it shows them that they have enough to spread around.
4. Bring gratitude into everyday moments. While it’s helpful to have a framework for cultivating gratitude with your kids, it’s not always necessary. You can go off the script and simply tell them how grateful you are for everyday things. Whenever I am overcome with gratitude for my life (which is, thankfully, often), I like to reach out and share it with my kids. I comment on the weather, on how much I love our house and comfy couch, on how happy I am in that moment. I ask them, “Aren’t you so glad we have nature to walk in? Aren’t the colors of the leaves so beautiful?”
Gratitude is about simply noticing life, breathing it in and being thankful for it. My kids often floor me with their sudden proclamations of love or the way they notice and appreciate the smallest things. They have taken my gratitude to a whole new level, and I hope I can return the favor by instilling gratitude into them for the rest of their lives.