Gratitude is one of the many positive emotions we can experience as humans. To experience gratitude, one must pause to notice and appreciate things we may otherwise take for granted. Adults may do this regularly, but children may require some direction regarding recognizing gratitude. How many times do we have to suggest to a child to ‘say thank you’ when receiving a kind word or gift?
Believe it or not, being grateful can positively affect health. Significant benefits of gratitude include mood improvement, social connectedness, and suicide risk reduction. Kids who are encouraged to make habits of expressing gratitude report feelings of happiness and satisfaction. These feelings have been shown to impact anxiety and depression. Gratitude may also increase a child’s social connection. A recent study suggested gratitude may be associated with more meaningful conversations through social media. A particularly significant finding in the midst of an endemic. Another study demonstrates gratitude's impact on stress disorders that may affect suicidal thoughts.
Robert Emmons studies gratitude extensively and concludes people who regularly engage in gratitude experience measurable psychological, physical, and interpersonal benefits. The main tenets of his research consist of gratitude allowing a celebration of the present and emphasizes that having gratitude can actually reflect ‘toxic emotions’ like regret, resentment, envy, or depression. He also believes grateful people are less stressed and more confident in their own self worth. His work published with National Institutes of Health researchers notes that gratitude is analogous to guilt and empathy.
A 2019 study assessed the connection between parent and children’s socialization of gratitude. The study included 101 parent/child pairs, where children were aged 6 - 9. Most parents in the study made more than $100,000 annually and were married. The findings indicated a direct connection between the modeling of gratitude a parent demonstrated on a daily basis and the child’s display of gratitude. The researchers posited that when parents and their children participated in daily acts of socialization displaying gratitude, the child learned more about gratitude and demonstrated this emotion on a regular basis.
So how do we help children develop gratitude? A behavior therapist affiliated with Alexia’s PLAYC states the best way to help children develop gratitude is to model it for them and to reinforce positive behaviors with praise when they demonstrate gratitude. Telling a child is not the same as showing, especially when it comes to being thankful and appreciative. These traits are not always innate and must be developed within a child’s spirit. The benefits will far outweigh any harm that may come their way from being too grateful.
As we enter the season of Thanksgiving, let’s take pause and demonstrate what being thankful really means. Show our children what gratitude looks like on a daily basis and they will make it a part of their character.