Cultivating gratitude, you may have heard, is great for your mental health. But according to research, it might be even more important for your kids' outlook. Studies show that children taught to count their blessings have greater life satisfaction, less depression, and even higher grades, according to the Wall Street Journal.
But in a society like ours that bombards kids with advertising and continuously pushes materialism and a narrow view of success, how can you encourage your children to stop wanting more things and start being thankful for the things they already have?
1. Model gratitude.
The first and most essential step, according to the WSJ article is to model gratitude yourself. "The old adage that virtues are not taught, but caught, applies here," University of California, Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, told the paper. "It's not what parents want to hear, but you cannot give your kids something that you yourself do not have."
This can be as simple as always saying thank you -- even for "expected" good behavior like picking up toys or tidying a bedroom -- or might involve taking conscious steps to push yourself to count your blessings more regularly. But beyond the this first, necessary step, other experts offer a range of powerful suggestions.
2. Have you kids cut the veggies.
Founder Jenn Choi recently wrote in the Atlantic about her struggle to teach her own children the sense of gratitude she picked up naturally growing up in a household of modest means. If this is a question that concerns you, it's worth a read in full, but here's one practical suggestion from the article parents could put to use -- involve your kids more in food preparation.
"My kids were horribly picky and wasteful. It was getting out of hand and so I sought help from Susan Roberts, a pediatric occupational therapist and author of My Kid Eats Everything. She told me kids eat horrible diets today because they are just being 'fed,'" reports Choi. While these days meals are often tailored to the whims of little ones, in the past whole families prepared the same food and ate it together.
Choi's takeaway from her conversation with Roberts was that she should get her kids more involved in cooking. A couple of cheap gadgets like a child-safe knife helped her to do just that, and she even set her 9-year-old the task of grilling his own hamburger (with supervision, of course). The project has been a great success. "He was so grateful, he even washed the dishes," Choi writes.
3. Set expectations around shopping.
If you're worried your child gets grabby and demanding during shopping trips, setting expectations is probably key. PBS Parents shares a useful approach that Melanie Etemad and her husband, a psychiatrist, developed for their two-year-old: "We'd say today is a 'look' day. Just like going to the museum, we enjoy the beautiful things, but we aren't planning to buy anything. ... We also tried to ensure that there were more 'look' days than 'buy' days, specifically to inoculate against the idea of always buying things."
Other experts suggest variations on this theme. If you're going to the store to run an errand and don't intend to buy anything for your child, tell them that beforehand, child development specialist Claire Lerner tells Parenting. "Then, if your son throws a fit at the store, you can refer back to that conversation, and say something like 'I know it's hard to be here when you're not getting anything, but that's the rule,'" reports the magazine. Will that totally stop the whining? No, but over time it should communicate that constant purchases aren't to be expected.
"Your weekends may be errand time, but try to avoid spending all your family moments pushing a shopping cart. That way, your kids won't think acquiring stuff is the leisure-time norm," adds the article.
4. Support emotional literacy.
In order to be grateful for something someone has done for them, your children need to be able to understand the motivations and preferences of others. In other words, they need to confidently read and understand emotions. "The more a kid is able to understand,''You went out of your way for me and have my best interest in mind,' the more grateful they are going to feel," Jeffery Froh, a psychologist and co-author of Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character, explains to Discovery News.
How can you support this sort of emotional literacy? "Use books and movies as an opportunity to discuss how characters might be feeling," says Froh in the article. He also suggests "talking about your own emotions, using descriptive words, subtlety and nuance."
5. Give and volunteer.
What's one final, simple idea? "Make giving and volunteering a habit. Set aside toys and clothing in good condition. Deliver the items to a deserving cause together. Talk about the process and why you care," PBS Parenting offers.
Is this an issue you struggle with as a parent? How do you handle it?