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The Four Building Blocks of Gratitude in Children

Gratitude Bedtime Routine - SmartSitting

It’s been a tough year. While it’s important to acknowledge how hard it’s been for many children and families, it is as important as ever to recognize and express gratitude. Many psychological studies show that being aware of gratitude can greatly increase wellbeing in children and adults. Grateful children are happier and are more engaged in schoolwork and relationships. But what many of us think of as gratitude is just the tip of the iceberg. 

Many of us, parents and child caregivers alike, are careful to teach children the virtues of saying “Thank you” to appreciate gratitude. However, there are ways to make children more profoundly aware of what gratitude actually means. Researchers in the Raising Grateful Children Project at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, have created a program to help parents and children work on gratitude at a deeper level. This, in turn, will hopefully encourage children to more deeply experience gratitude and to engage in positive behaviors and acts of gratitude toward others. The project divides gratitude into four parts: notice, think, feel, do. 

Notice what there is to be grateful for

This part of gratitude is about noticing what there is to be grateful for to begin with. It may be an act of kindness from someone. As a parent, you can help activate this gratitude in your child. Ask what they have or have been given for which they are grateful. They can also point out deeper things to appreciate. This may be the meaning behind a gift, or how much someone appreciates you for them to give you something or behave in a nice way toward you. 

Think about why you have been given these things

Thinking about the meaning or reason behind a gift or kind behavior can help make this act feel more profound. Prompt your child to think about why they have been given something. Do they think the giver had to do this kind thing? If the child can appreciate the kindness behind a gift or behavior, it may help them feel more grateful for it. 

Consider how you feel about the things you have been given

Thinking about how a gift makes the child feel can encourage them to connect positive feelings to the gifts they receive and the positive acts they experience. In turn, this may encourage them to perpetuate the kindnesses. Ask your child what it feels like to receive a gift. Follow up by asking what about it specifically makes them feel good or happy. 

Do something to express appreciation in return

Doing is the thing most people think of when it comes to gratitude, in simply expressing thanks. However, there may be more to it than that. Prompting children to think about how they may want to show their feelings about a gift can help them connect their experiences with their actions and agency in the world. It may encourage them to pay it forward with other acts of kindness.

There are many helpful ways to talk through these various forms of gratitude and how your child experiences them. For instance, you could keep a gratitude journal or share a moment of gratitude each night as part of your bedtime routine. You can adjust a gratitude journal to fit your child’s age. They could be drawings, colorful crafts, written words, anything that helps your child express themselves and think about these questions. Working through these kinds of questions with your children on a regular basis can help strengthen their awareness of gratitude. In the long run, they can create stronger, happier children more empowered to pay it forward. 

Do you have any great ideas on how to help kids become aware of their gratitude? Drop a line on our Facebook or Instagram and pay it forward! Want to know more about our childcare tips and tricks? Make sure to sign up for our newsletter and get all the latest from the SmartSitting team directly in your inbox.

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