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Cultivating Gratitude in Children

Two Children Laughing

“Never lose the childlike wonder. It’s just too important.

It’s what drives us.” -Randy Pausch

This quote has always resonated. There truly is a “childlike wonder” in young people that never ceases to amaze me. As teachers, counselors, parents, aunts, uncles, friends, or any other important influence on the life of a child, this is a quote worth remembering. We get to experience our children’s firsts with them, and we have a powerful role in helping shape who they become. Part of our role should be to encourage our children to express gratitude, as research has shown that the simple act of positive rituals and patterns of thinking can lead to better sleep, a greater sense of well-being, and an enhanced ability to handle change.

Modeling. As a child, I remember my mom pointing out the sights around me. “Look, Norma, at that deer! How beautiful!” “Norma, look at the moon tonight. It’s not often that it’s full!” “Listen to the sound of the water and feel the sensation of the sand on your toes.” My mom was so full of excitement at her surroundings, and that made me match her passionate enthusiasm for nature. I am proud to say that I have become that person who says to my husband, “Look at the full moon! It’s amazing!” I appreciate these moments now as an adult and actively seek them out. Thank you mom (see, I’m showing gratitude!).

“Please” and “Thank you.” It seems so simple, but children need to learn the importance of saying please and thank you. Another ode to my mom: every time someone picked me up for carpool, I would thank the parent of the child who drove me. This became part of my daily routine as a child, and it’s such a simple but meaningful practice to teach your children that they will remember into adulthood. If you’re looking for a great book to read to your little one on this theme, check out “Have you Filled a Bucket Today” by Carol McCloud. The author creates an amazing metaphor to help children understand this concept of expressing thanks.

A thorn, a rose, and a bud. Chea taught this one to me, and I love it! Expanding on metaphors, children can think about their day in terms of a low (thorn), a high (rose), and a wish (bud). This can be part of the daily dinner table routine, and going back to modeling, adults should participate in this with their children. Always start with the thorn and end on the rose and the bud. For example: My thorn is the rainy weather today… I wish we could be outside! My rose is being able to spend more time with my family and take advantage of an indoor game night. My bud is that we’ll get some sunshine tomorrow so we can play outside!

An activity with the theme of giving. It always feels good to give back. Try to seek out activities with your children that involve active participation with all family members. Maybe there is a homeless shelter nearby where families can pack lunch bags together and deliver them. You might find a dog rescue shelter that could use donations of dog food, treats, or toys. Is there litter at a park nearby? Take your children there to assist with cleanup. These small acts of kindness can help instill fulfillment and gratitude in your children.

Journal. As your children get older, they might enjoy the practice of keeping a gratitude journal. As an adult, I’ve found this process so helpful. To learn more about gratitude, check out Shawn Achor’s “The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance.”

And remember never to lose that childlike wonder. 😊


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