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Raising grateful children


Research has shown that gratitude can have major positive implications for adults, teens and younger children. When kids learn to be grateful, they learn to become sensitive to the emotions of others, therefore developing important interpersonal and empathic skills. An empathic child will be able to form deep relationships with the people around them and will tend to be happier.

Research has furthermore shown that children who exhibit gratitude tend to have better social interactions with others, higher grades, stronger connections to their school and tend to be less depressed and anxious. They have also been shown to be more generous and driven than their peers. Furthermore, gratitude seems to enhance our kids’ levels of optimism and life satisfaction.

Recognising and appreciating the efforts that others show toward you is not something that comes naturally for most children. Gratitude needs to be learned. Here are some ideas about what parents can do to help their kids learn to be thankful:

  • Work gratitude into your daily conversation with your kids. They model your behaviour, so if you are focused on being thankful they will learn to be as well.
  • Require your kids to help around the house. This will help them appreciate the things that you do for them, as they then start to realise how much work it is to take care of the household.
  • Get your kids to make thank you cards for the gifts they received from others.
  • Get your kids to participate when shopping for gifts for others. Ask them to contribute ideas, help with the buying and wrapping process and ask them to give the gift to the receiving individual.
  • Thank your kids when they do something that you appreciate and also thank your spouse, friends and family in front of your kids. They will learn a lot about gratitude through your acts of thankfulness in front of them.
  • Read them stories about gratitude.
  • Create a gratitude routine where each family member talks about the things that theyr are grateful for. For example, ask each family member to list one thing that they are thankful for from their day when sitting down for dinner.
  • Help your children think about all the effort that had to take place for them to enjoy something. For example, if they are given a hamburger, help them rewind and think about the person who packaged the burger, the people that made the patties and buns, the farmers that worked with the cows etc. This will help them appreciate the day-to-day things that they enjoy more and could even be a fun game that you play with your kids.
  • There are two ways in which kids can learn something new. They can learn about an apple by looking at a picture of it or they can learn about an apple by tasting and feeling it for themselves. In others words they can learn something new either through knowledge or through experience. Getting your kids involved in a charity project addresses the latter learning opportunity. Regular exposure to less fortunate people helps your kids appreciate their blessings, but also helps them to learn about generosity and helps them develop their empathic abilities.

Dealing with entitled kids:

We live in a time where the constant pursuit of happiness has been channelled through materialistic pursuits. And because kids learn by example, they are chasing the same things we are as adults. In a world where we are constantly led to believe that purchasing something new will lead to our happiness, we cannot blame our kids when they become entitled and ungrateful brats. It is your job as parents to stop this cycle and to teach our kids about real happiness.

A common mistake parents often make is their lack of consistency and assertiveness with their kids. It is easier to agree to buy our kids a particular toy than to say no and deal with the consequences. Unfortunately by doing this we are teaching our kids that they will always get what they want and that they will never have to deal with disappointment. This perspective is not equipping them for their future life and will cause tremendous harm in the long run.

Here’s some tips for parents dealing with entitled kids:

  • Practice saying no. Your kids will constantly ask you for new toys, candy or games, but if you constantly give them what they want, they will not learn to appreciate the gifts that they received. They will also not learn how to deal with disappointment – a crucial life skill that your child needs to learn.
  • Good manners and gratitude overlap, especially for younger kids who developmentally do not have the ability to show true gratitude yet. Saying “thank you” may be a learned behaviour at the moment, but soon your kids will start to understand the meaning behind the “thank you”.
  • Encourage your children to look past material things when listing what they are grateful for.
  • Help your kids understand that new toys or clothes are thoughtful gestures from you or others and not them getting what they deserve.
  • Set limits on gifts, especially with birthdays and Christmas. These events often become so commercialised that kids lose out on feelings of appreciation, enjoyment and thankfulness because they receive more than they are actually capable of enjoying. Find ways to enrich their experience of receiving gifts by keeping their gifts reasonable.

Our kids are watching as every day goes by. They are learning more about the world, about themselves, about others and about possessions from us than anywhere else. Kids learn most by example. If you display thankfulness they will see what thankfulness looks like. If you display behaviour that shows your constant search for more money, or fancier possessions, they will learn that this is appropriate and necessary. You are teaching your kids what is important not just by what you say, but also by your behaviour. You have the power to influence the lives, behaviors and perspectives of your children for the rest of their lives, are you up for the challenge?

Struggling with your kids? Struggling to understand them or discipline them? Contact Lomé for an appointment now on or 082 453 8132.

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