Fostering an Attitude of Gratitude in Our Children

Published on: November 16, 2018

Less is often more, and when fostering gratitude in our children, creating the conditions for engagement and ease are an important foundation for developing true appreciation.

By Jinae Higashino

Fostering an attitude of gratitude is a phenomenal investment. In reviewing more than 40 studies on gratitude, a list of 31 benefits from the practice of gratitude were found[1]. These benefits fall across diverse areas of well-being, ranging from emotional, physical, cognitive, social and even professional success.

What’s even better news is that gratitude is a practice that is accessible to everyone, a skill which can be strengthened and trained. It’s something we can all do, if only we truly internalize its importance.

We all want the best for our children, and in this well-meaning impulse, it is easy to go overboard with toys, clothes, books and packed schedules with a wide variety of social, educational, and enrichment activities.

Many of us are aware of these benefits to a certain extent. Perhaps we’ve read articles about the benefits of gratitude, or had an overzealous friend or family member gush about it to us at one point. We know! Gratitude is key to happiness and well-being!

Yet perhaps after a short stint of writing a gratitude journal or reflecting on three things we’re grateful for each day, that practice of gratitude succumbs to the competition of a million other urgent demands in our lives. Our attention gets diverted elsewhere, and gratitude becomes a random afterthought as opposed to being a central pillar of our lives. 

But perhaps we should take gratitude a bit more seriously.

Positive effects of gratitude

Surprisingly, five minutes of daily gratitude journaling has the same positive effect on one’s baseline happiness levels as doubling one’s income[2]!

This is due to the effects of hedonic adaptation, the tendency for people to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. While we quickly get used to new life circumstances, gratitude practice actually helps us grow our ability to appreciate what we already have.

When considering that it’s free and virtually painless, gratitude practice gives what is probably the best return on investment out there.

Ideas to help our children foster a sense of gratitude

With this knowledge that gratitude has so many positive benefits, as parents, we may likely wonder how to also help our children foster a sense of gratitude.

Beyond cultivating and modeling an attitude of gratitude ourselves and making saying “thank you” a regular habit, a daily or even weekly gratitude journal is a great family tradition. An alternative idea is a nightly or weekly family ritual of sharing together about things we are grateful for.

Taking time in our lives to reflect on what is going right is always a beautiful experience and one which can add a lot of positive connection and energy into our family culture.

Many parents also find opportunities for their children to become involved in charity work, serving those who are less fortunate and hopefully opening their children’s eyes to their own good fortune.

More is not always better, and quality trumps quantity when it comes to fostering anticipation, care, and a true appreciation of things.

Last year our family participated in BAMBI’s charity gift bags for hill tribe children in Northern Thailand, and it was a sweet experience going shopping together with my older daughter to choose gifts for our child.

Serving those in need helps our children to see beyond their own desires and offers a chance to experience the joy of giving, empowering them to make meaningful contributions to a purpose larger than themselves. 

Countering our well-meaning impulses as parents

An inescapable challenge for most of us is how to counter the messages from modern society which undermine our efforts to foster gratitude. Steering our children away from overindulgence and keeping them from developing an over-inflated sense of entitlement isn’t easy.

There seems to be an increasingly self-absorbed consumerist mentality permeating modern society. The persistent message of more, bigger, newer and faster all invariably meaning better is everywhere.

With excess comes lack of engagement and a sense of disconnection

Perhaps we ourselves are caught up in this pressure to keep up and to forever seek the next big thing despite intellectually knowing that it is a never-ending and unsatisfying endeavor. 

We all want the best for our children, and in this well-meaning impulse, it is easy to go overboard with toys, clothes, books and packed schedules with a wide variety of social, educational, and enrichment activities. Sometimes it’s driven by the desire to give our children all the opportunities and things we never had; at other times it’s driven by a fear of falling behind.

Yet the sheer quantity of our good intentions can unwittingly lead to cumulative stress and insecurity for our children, a focus on accumulation and achievement that doesn’t allow for engagement and appreciation of what one already has.

It’s completely natural to want our children to be happy and to give them the best opportunities. Yet what starts as a basic drive to ensure our survival can often go past the point of serving us to actually threatening our well being, and more so that of our children. 

Embracing simplicity

One of the best parenting books I’ve ever read is Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne, M.ED. I initially started reading it in order to find guidance in helping my daughter with her anxiety, for which it was infinitely helpful.

However, an unexpected and interesting take away for me has been that in embracing simplicity, there is a greater foundation laid towards creating a deeper capacity for gratitude and appreciation.

This is because when children are overloaded, they cannot engage deeply or make meaningful connections with the world around them. With excess comes lack of engagement and a sense of disconnection, which serves to makes it much harder to truly appreciate the magic and wonder already in front of their eyes. 

When children receive everything they want, we feed into their sense of entitlement — and feelings of gratitude fall by the wayside. What’s more, they miss out on something more fundamental.

“Too much stuff deprives children of leisure, and the ability to explore their worlds deeply. Too much stuff leads to too little time and too little depth in the way children see and explore their worlds”[3]

Instead of always chasing after more, being able to tune into and appreciate, even savor what is already there is a marvelous ability. “To truly appreciate ‘the ordinary’ is an exceptional gift”[4]. In reducing the toys and scheduled activities in my daughter’s life, I have seen her engagement grow and blossom.

More is not always better, and quality trumps quantity when it comes to fostering anticipation, care, and a true appreciation of things.

Steering our children away from overindulgence and keeping them from developing an over-inflated sense of entitlement isn’t easy.

As the pace of modern life continually increases, it becomes more and more inhospitable for children’s optimal development. Even as adults we feel increasingly bombarded and overwhelmed by the frenzied pace ushered in by the information age. To slow down and to cut back feels almost subversive when everyone else seems to be hustling to get ahead and to accumulate more. 

Yet, it is calm and connection that fosters the development of identity, well-being, and resilience.

“By simplifying, we protect the environment for childhood’s slow, essential unfolding of self”[5].

So perhaps rather than trying to have it all, we may find greater contentment in embracing simplicity. By providing the fertile ground for gratitude to naturally flourish, we set up our children for a greater foundation for contentment and fulfillment, the things we ultimately want for them to attain!

 

Photo by Courtney Hedger on Unsplash

References

[1] & [2] http://happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/

[3] [4] & [5] Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne, M.ED., p.22, p.152, and p.6, respectively.

 

About the Author

Jinae is from the US, an experienced EFL teacher with a background in child development. She was BAMBI magazine assistant editor and served as playgroup co-leader for several different BAMBI playgroups. Jinae, her husband and two daughters have been living in Bangkok for 3 years.


The views expressed in the articles in this magazine are not necessarily those of BAMBI committee members and we assume no responsibility for them or their effects.

BAMBI News welcomes volunteer contributors to our magazine. Please contact editor@bambiweb.org.

 

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