This time of year, we’re frequently reminded to give thanks for the good things in our lives. But when decorations come down and school starts back up, the prompts to practice gratitude fade away. So how can parents encourage kids to recognize goodness year-round? To find out, we collected tips from gratitude guru and fellow parent Maryam Abdullah.
Maryam Abdullah, Ph.D. is the Parenting Program Director of the Greater Good Science Center. She is a developmental psychologist with expertise in parent-child relationships and children’s development of prosocial behaviors.
1. Discover what gratitude means to you
Gratitude can be a difficult concept for adults to grasp — let alone little ones. Maryam says gratitude is really about recognizing goodness outside of ourselves. Goodness can be big things, like happiness, love, family, and health. It can also be small things, like hugs, green lights, and ice cream. It’s up to you to decide the goodness you want to recognize. Once you understand how gratitude aligns with your own values, you can start talking about it with your kids.
2. Share how goodness makes you feel
Practicing gratitude doesn’t always have to be a formal act of recognition. It can be as simple or easy as thanking your child for a hug or kiss. Maryam says since children aren’t necessarily able to verbalize things, parents should show their kids how to practice gratitude by doing it themselves.
“Parents can start demonstrating gratitude with babies before they speak their first word. And then once they become verbal, I think it’s important to practice saying thanks to one another as a family. And not just saying thanks but actually describing how you feel.”
Talking about how goodness makes us feel can help us better understand and manage our emotions. Here’s an example of how parents can share their gratitude after a moment of goodness.
Goodness: Your neighbor came by and dropped off some tomatoes.
Recognition: I feel so thankful that she’s our neighbor and that she’s someone who shares with us. I feel so happy to be able to receive these gifts from her.
3. Ask your kids about their gratitude
Kids aren’t always great at describing their feelings. Maryam recommends sparking conversations based on four parts that make up the gratitude experience which are outlined by Andrea Hussong, a professor of psychology and neuroscience, and GGSC parent initiative advisor.
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.
Asking Notice-Think-Feel-Do questions is a simple way to scaffold your child’s understanding or perception of something that’s good in their life.
NOTICE: I noticed that grandma brought you this new book.
THINK: What do you think about that?
FEEL: How does that make you feel?
DO: Is there something you want to do, to show them how you feel about receiving this new book?
The Greater Good Science Center has more helpful information about Notice-Think-Feel-Do questions here (link)!
4. Encourage your kids to document their gratitude
Along with prompting conversations, Maryam tells us parents can encourage their children to practice gratitude on their own through activities or rituals. Here are some easy ideas she shared with us:
Gratitude Journal: Recognizing goodness in writing can be a ritual in the morning when they wake up or in the evening as a reflection about how the day went.
Photo Essays: If writing isn’t the right activity for your child, they could take pictures of things that they’re grateful for and build up a library of photos of the good things and gifts in their lives.
5. Practice turning gratitude into a habit
Each time you demonstrate and talk about gratitude with your kids, you’re helping them build valuable skills for their emotional toolbox. Maryam suggests trying to work gratitude into your family’s daily rituals with activities.
“At the dinner table, have each family member talk about three good things they experienced that day. This can spark conversation between parents and children in ways that may be just really sweet and tender. It also could be a way for parents to get a glimpse of what’s meaningful to their child.”
Creating good habits is easier said than done. So be kind to yourself through the process!
“Sometimes, as parents we may feel like our kids haven’t figured out all of those steps and that’s okay. I think that’s something we as parents need help remembering too. This is something that they’re still learning, and the more they practice, the more that skill will get stronger.”
For more fun activities, check out this KiwiCo post:
10 Awesome Gratitude Projects for the Whole Family
We want to give a special thank you to Maryam Abdullah and the Greater Good Science Center! If you want to learn more about gratitude and other ways to increase your well-being, check out the Greater Good Magazine.
GGSC recently released a new book called “The Gratitude Project” that delves deep into the neuroscience and psychology of gratitude and explores how thankfulness can be developed and applied. You can purchase the book directly from the publisher or on Amazon.