Most parents make some kind of effort to enforce manners like getting their kids to say “please” and “thank you”. This is absolutely important (obvi) but teaching children to be grateful is more than just teaching them to say thank you. It’s a great place to start, of course – one of my daughter’s first words was “thank you” (after “Dada” – she didn’t get “mama” down until much later… sigh). However, there is a distinction between behaving politely and experiencing genuine feelings of gratitude. We try to get her to go beyond just saying the words and focus on the actual feeling of gratitude, and we do this in a number of different ways:
1. Ask the right questions
Instead of simply asking “what did you do today?”, my husband and I will ask our daughter questions like “what was your favourite part about today?” or “what made you happy today?”, with a follow up prompt about why it was her favourite part/made her happy. This forces her to focus on the best parts of the day so that she can start to feel the feeling of gratitude, whether she understands it yet or not. When she goes to daycare, we also try to get her to reflect on who she had fun playing with, what they played and why it was fun. We find that this has been very successful so far, and we will often hear her saying things like “I’m so lucky…” and “I’m so happy because…”, which is both cute and awesome.
2. Say grace before meals
One of our new favourite practices is to say grace before meals. This practice was actually started by my almost-3-year-old daughter. She has been saying grace for over a year at daycare before all her snacks and lunches, but she only just started reciting it at home with us a few months ago. At first we didn’t know what she was doing or why she kept telling us to fold our hands. Neither my husband nor I ever grew up saying grace, so we aren’t familiar with it. But now that we better understand what she’s saying and doing, we really love it, and so does she! And as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we aren’t overly religious, but the grace my daughter says isn’t religious either. This is the one we do:
We fold our hands and softly say
Thank you for our food today!
It’s so simple, and it’s such a lovely way to start the meal by giving thanks for the food we eat. I’m going to start searching for other non-religious prayers that we can start using on a more daily basis to help teach my daughter about gratitude. Here are two more that I found online, which I liked:
Hands up high, hands down low, just so (holding hands now).
Thank you for the food we eat, thank you for the world so sweet,
thank you for the birds that sing, thank you for everything.
We love our bread,
We love our butter,
But most of all,
We love each other.
(This one is from the animated TV show Madeline, which I can remember from my own childhood!)
3. “Lucky Me!” Jars
Another practice we’ve recently started is our “Lucky Me!” jars. This is something I read about in this Today’s Parent article on teaching kids gratitude. Basically, you get a jar or container of some kind, and every day, week, or however often you want, you sit down with your child and write down something they are grateful for that day. I loved this idea when I read about it and knew my daughter would love it too. We decorated our jar together and it’s become part of our daily routine. During supper, we talk about what or who made her happy that day and then she’ll inevitably say “we need to put it in the “Lucky Me!” jar! So after supper, I get her to dictate what she’s grateful for while I write it on a slip of paper and then she gets to put the paper into the jar.
I’m a big believer in writing down at least 10 things you’re grateful for each day, so this is a fun and creative way to introduce that practice, at a very young age!
4. Express gratitude before bed
Every night before my daughter goes to bed, we run through our normal bedtime routine: we start with a bath, brush her teeth, get her pyjamas on, read a story, and then I express gratitude for things that happened during the day. I will say to her things like “Thank you so much for sitting on the potty so well today! You made mummy so happy every time you peed or pooped on the potty!” (we just *finally* potty trained her, so this is a common one these days!) Or “Thank you so much for helping me with the laundry tonight – you matched all the socks really well and it made mummy’s job folding the laundry so much easier!”
This way, I’m getting her to think back on some of the things she did well – peeing on the potty, helping with the laundry, tracing letters, eating all her dinner, etc., and I’m trying to show her how grateful I am for her. I strongly believe that by showing her gratitude, she will, in time, start to understand and express her own gratitude. I can already hear her copying me – before I even say it, she will thank me for helping her with the laundry, which is adorable and hilarious!
How do you try to incorporate daily gratitude practices into your child’s life? I would love to hear your tips and tricks in the comments below!
With love and gratitude,