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1. Be a gratitude role model: When possible, demonstrate thankful behavior.
2. Make space for thanks: Allow time to remember the good in life.
3. Talk the talk: Express gratitude with words like fortunate and gift.
4. Write it down: Encourage your child to count her blessings by keeping a gratitude journal.
5. Pay a thank-you visit: Have your child write a card to someone who did him a favor, then read it to the person in person.
6. Use visual reminders: Text your child thank-you notes or leave them in her lunch box. Remind her to surprise others with such notes.
7. Practice mindfulness: With your child, focus on one sense — the sight of autumn leaves, for example — and savor the experience together.
8. Highlight the benefits: Explain how gratitude strengthens your child's relationships: “That was sweet of you to thank your friend for the homework help. I'm sure it made your friendship stronger.”
9. Give credit where it's due: When your child reaches a goal — whether it’s winning a spelling bee or joining varsity soccer — point out who helped him succeed.
Adapted from recommendations from Dr. Jeffrey Froh. For a list of his studies, go here.
By Leslie Crawford
Interestingly, Froh found that children who are already more emotionally positive do not benefit as much from gratitude interventions. “Compared with those low in positive emotions, they may have hit an emotional ‘ceiling,’” says Froh. “In other words, if on a scale of 1 to 10 a child is already an 8 when measured by qualifiers like happiness and optimism, he may not be much helped by being taught to be more grateful.” But a gratitude intervention for a child who is only a 5 “may give him the boost he needs to experience well-being.”
So how to take these newfound scientific findings and apply them? While gratitude journals and thank-you visits can be valuable exercises for a child, simple day-to-day methods may reap the greatest long-term results.
Start by walking children through the thoughts of gratitude. As in, “Wow, because your friend Jeremy skipped his soccer game and helped you with your homework, you did great on your math test.” Froh also encourages parents not to dictate how children express their thanks, but to let them show gratitude in whatever way is most comfortable — from a picture to a favor in return.
Finally and most notably, as Froh points out, children learn best when grownups model the very behavior they’d like to see in their kids.
“It’s monkey see, monkey do,” says Froh. Whether it’s presenting a bouquet of flowers to a babysitter for staying extra late or delivering a thank-you note to the school janitor for his hard work, your actions speak louder than all the “how ‘bout a little gratitude” harangues.
And nothing teaches gratitude better than openly expressing your own thankfulness for what you have (instead of grumbling about what you don’t). Gradually, your child will absorb an invaluable message: That to show and give thanks is its own reward.
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