During the holiday season, we often stop and count our blessings or give thanks for the good things in our lives. Especially in challenging times, a tradition of gratitude can sustain us through the difficulties. If you’ve been through divorce — or are going through one now — teaching gratitude practices to your children may be the last thing that comes to your mind. But just as studies show the positive impact of gratitude on the mental, physical and spiritual well-being of adults, gratitude has also been linked to benefits in children. According to The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California Berkley, grateful adolescents (age 11-13) are “happier, more optimistic, have better social support and are more satisfied with their school, family and themselves.” Grateful teens (age 14-19) are “more satisfied with their lives, use their strengths to better their community, are more engaged in their schoolwork and hobbies, have higher grades, and are less envious, depressed, and materialistic.”
Helping your kids discover and practice gratitude may help them overcome immediate feelings of sadness, frustration, and loss, and provide them with a way to sustain feelings of abundance and well-being no matter what is happening in the world around them. Fortunately, gratitude, like any practice, can be taught. And teaching your kids how to make it a regular part of their day, can be easier than you think. Here are seven ways to foster a sense of gratitude in your children from the pages of Greater Good Magazine:
1. Engage in public displays of appreciation. Make a point of sharing your own gratitude practices with your children. Show your kids that blessings abound and that being thankful is a valued attitude. Adults can promote gratitude directly in children by helping them appraise the benefits they receive from others—the personal value of those benefits, the altruistic intention of people providing them, and the cost to those people.
2. Be present. Savor every moment together, big and small, and rid yourself of distractions at such times, including your smartphone. Being mindful helps you maintain empathy toward a child, and this provides important modeling of empathy, the most important emotion for developing gratitude and moral behavior. It will also give you and your child a heightened sense of appreciation for the things both of you love and for your relationship.
3. Support your child’s autonomy. Allow your kids to take ownership over their skills and talents and being responsible for developing them, children gain things to appreciate in life and make it easier to attract support from others, thus inviting gratitude into their daily life.
4. Use kids’ strengths to fuel gratitude. Encourage your kids to find their strengths and give them opportunities to use those strengths as much as possible. To directly promote gratitude, encourage and help your children to use their strengths to thank and be kind to others.
5. Help focus and support kids to achieve goals. Engage in activities that provide community, affiliation, and growth. Not only will successfully achieving these goals fulfill children’s fundamental human needs of competency, belongingness, and autonomy, but their personal development, happiness, success, and gratitude depend on it. To amplify their gratitude even more, remember to savor their accomplishments with them along the way, and encourage them to thank those who’ve helped them meet their goals.
6. Encourage helping others and nurturing relationships. When children lend a hand, especially while using their strengths, they feel more connected to those they’re helping, which helps them to develop and nurture friendships and social relationships. A great way to do this is by teaching them through your actions that other people matter and that tending to relationships should be a priority. To help children strengthen their relationships, you should encourage them to be thoughtful of others, to thank others regularly, and to be cooperative, helpful, and giving.
7. Help kids find what matters to them. The deepest sense of gratitude in life comes from connecting to a bigger picture, to an issue that matters to others and doing things that contribute to society down the road. Encourage their interests in the social issues so they can learn as much as they can about those issues and discover ways they can make a difference.
Instilling life-long gratitude practices in your children goes far beyond saying “please,” or writing a thank-you note (although both of those practices are good!) Finding reasons to be grateful during difficult times — such as during your divorce — can help make kids feel more secure and empowered. Learning this practice as a means of navigating challenges may make the transition to your new family arrangement a bit more palatable. In fact, gratitude may be the most valuable gift you can provide. By approaching every situation in life with a grateful heart, your children will remain resilient through all of life’s storms.