As we enter the holiday season, we are reminded to reflect on the good in our lives and take time to be thankful. This year, which has been more challenging than most, it’s important to recognize the relationships, experiences and opportunities that have brought us happiness.
Fostering gratitude is especially beneficial for children — and not just around the holidays. Studies show incorporating gratitude into a child’s life can help counteract feelings of entitlement, especially when discussions about gratitude start early in childhood.
Counting blessings has been associated with increased optimism and life satisfaction and decreased negative effects. Gratitude also has been tied to the ability to build strong relationships, deal with adversity and enjoy better physical health.
Most parents want to build a sense of gratefulness in their children to counter feelings of inherent privilege and prepare them to be good stewards of the family’s legacy and wealth. However, instilling gratitude in children goes beyond simply teaching them to say “thank you” and count the good things in their lives.
Children need to understand that the advantages they receive — material or otherwise — are not owed to them simply because of who they are. They need to understand that some of the good things in their lives have come as loving gifts from others, often to help them achieve their full potential and accomplish their goals and dreams.
How do you help children experience gratitude? One way is to take advantage of teachable moments by simply talking with your children about appreciating the good in their lives.
Here are some tips to weave gratitude into conversations with children:
- Model gratitude: Children often learn more from what we do than what we say, but aligning actions and words can have a lasting impact on your children. When you encounter something good in your life, call attention to how much you appreciate what you have received. If it was a gift or thoughtful gesture from someone, talk with your children about how kind it was for that person to think of you and how much you appreciate that person turning thought into action for your benefit.
- Ask guiding questions: A rote recitation of “thank you” for a gift does not necessarily inspire gratitude in a child, but asking them questions about receiving the gift may. You may want to ask:
- Are you grateful someone was thinking about you to give you the gift?
- Why do you think you received this gift?
- Does it make you feel happy to get this gift?
- What about the gift makes you feel happy?
- Is there a way you want to show how you feel about this gift?
- Does the feeling you have about this gift make you want to give something to someone else?
The holidays are a wonderful time to think about how gratitude already is present in your children and how you can provide them with opportunities throughout the year to think about and appreciate the good in their lives.
Beth O’Laughlin is a partner in the law firm Warner Norcross + Judd LLP who concentrates her practice in trust and estate planning and administration, succession planning, tax matters and wealth preservation. She can be reached at email@example.com.