Teaching children is not an easy task. It takes repetition, being fully present in the moment and willingness to invest the time in each child's unique growth and learning. Teaching gratitude to pre-schoolers, who by nature tend to be "self-centered, " is more complicated and takes way more than merely teaching habitual "thank you."
Despite being complex and challenging, it is vital for children to learn and practice acts of gratitude. Gratitude is an emotion which has been positively linked to human well-being. The studies have shown gratitude helps decrease anxiety, depression, improves sleep, builds empathy and helps with the overall school performance. As a positive emotion, the benefits of gratitude continue to be recognized and researched in the field of positive psychology.
But how early do children begin to understand the concept of gratitude?
Researches Nelson, Freitas at al (2013) investigated emotion and mental status knowledge as the precursors to children's early understanding of gratitude at ages 3 and 4. Their understanding of gratitude was subsequently measured in the same group of children at the age of 5. Then investigators found that most children by age of 5 have "a beginning understanding of gratitude" and that their understanding was predicted by how well they recognized emotions at age 3 as well as the developmental progression of mental state knowledge from age 3 to age 4.
" In other words, 5-year-olds who have a more complete understanding of gratitude are those who showed more understanding of emotions at age 3, and more understanding of others’ mental states at age 3 and 4."
Hussong at al. (2018) tested whether parents who engage in more frequent daily gratitude practices with their children if their children subsequently show more frequent gratitude displays The study included 101 parent-child dyads who were seen for a baseline lab visit and then kept the 7-day diary. The investigators found out that parents who engaged in more frequent gratitude socialization acts reported more frequent displays of gratitude by their children across the seven days.
In essence, what we have learned so far, is that by age 5 children begin to develop some understanding of gratitude and more we practice gratitude with children, it appears children will display gratitude more frequently.
How does one start teaching gratitude to a young child? If you are thinking "I am overwhelmed with everything else, and while this sounds great - who has the time?"
Great news- practicing gratitude is all about tweaking it into the small day to day moments of interactions. It costs you nothing, yet with time you will reap abundant dividends.
Here are three simple steps you can start with right now:
1. Role-model gratitude in your own life: Merely having conversations and sharing your daily experiences, with the focus on a positive aspect or what you are grateful for, will influence your child. Sharing your stories at this age is powerful, as they are listening and absorbing.
2. Performing simple acts of gratitude and sharing "why" is another point of influence. When they hear you thank someone and observe what you are doing - you are building the foundation.
3. Reading children's books with a focus on emotions and gratitude. Quality reading time is an excellent opportunity to share the stories of others and learn.
4. My favorite: Place a gratitude box or a gratitude jar in your living space. Perhaps you and your little one can even decorate it together. Have your child draw something special or meaningful to them (as typically the writing skills are not developed at this age) and place it in the box.
P.S. Date it - it will be that much more fun looking back at it once when they are older.
We have said this before:
"Just like the entitlement, the seeds of gratitude and appreciation are sown over time, in the small day to day moments.
No matter where you are now, you can start with a few small steps to bring more gratitude awareness. It is those small decisions which with time will create a ripple to tidal effect. "
If you are already doing this, great - we would love to hear from you. Please comment below and share:
To yo and the alchemy of gratitude,