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We’re living through unprecedented and challenging times. The COVID-19 pandemic has people feeling overwhelmed and stressed. That’s why it’s even more important than ever to focus on gratitude — the practice of being thankful for things that are meaningful and a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Practicing gratitude is good for both your mental and physical health and its effects can help you stay well through the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

A 2019 study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that gratitude is linked to happiness in children by age 5. This means that teaching and practicing gratitude in children at a young age could help them grow up to be happier adults. There are a lot of good reasons to help children experience and express gratitude. Click below to read about strategies that can help inspire gratitude, especially during these challenging times.

Perform acts of kindness

There are a lot of ways children can show appreciation for other folks. It could be returning a favor or can involve acts of service. Be sure to demonstrate there are many ways to show people that you’re grateful for all they do. This could be sharing materials, completing chores or tasks for someone who has been kind or writing letters to first responders, making it clear that gratitude isn’t reserved for folks you know personally.

Jot down the things that bring you joy

Make a regular routine of writing down the things you’re grateful for. The list doesn’t always have to be long but if you create a practice of identifying and naming the things you are grateful for, you may see an improvement to your overall wellness.

Create a gratitude project

A project can be a good way to get everyone involved in expressing gratitude. You could create a bulletin board where everyone can add what they’re thankful for. This could include photos, cutting out and attaching pictures, handwritten sticky notes or marker board where folks can write things down.

You could keep a jar in an easily accessible place and keep some pieces of paper nearby. Encourage everyone to write down something they’re grateful for (maybe once a day) and put it in the jar. Later you can read the pieces of paper together—maybe once a week or once a month. This can be a great way to honor all the good things happening in everyone’s lives.

Ask gratitude questions

Start having conversations about what it means to be thankful and take children’s understanding of gratitude to a whole new level by incorporating more gratitude components. The Raising Grateful Children Project has revealed that gratitude has four parts: noticing (recognizing the things you have to be grateful for), thinking (about why you’ve been given those things), feeling (the emotions you experience as a result of the things you’ve been given) and doing (the way you express appreciation). Researchers encourage asking children questions to help foster a deeper sense of gratitude. Here are some suggested questions:

  • Notice – What do you have in your life to be grateful for? Are there things to be grateful for beyond the actual gifts someone has given you? Are you grateful for any people in your life?
  • Think – What do you think about this present? Do you think you should give something to the person who gave it to you? Do you think you earned the gift? Do you think the person gave you a gift because they thought they had to or because they wanted to?
  • Feel – Does it make you feel happy to get this gift? What does it feel like inside? What about this gift makes you feel happy?
  • Do – Is there a way to show how you feel about this gift? Does the feeling you have about this gift make you want to share this feeling by giving to someone else?

Make mealtimes mindful

Before and during meals, take time to appreciate the food on your table. When eating, slow down and enjoy each bite. Not only will you feel more thankful, but you’ll also be less likely to overeat.

Establish a gratitude ritual

Make it a habit to regularly express gratitude. Here are some examples of rituals you might establish:

  • Everyone takes turns during meals sharing one thing they’re grateful for from their day
  • Before rest time, ask each child to say three things they feel grateful for
  • On Mondays discuss how everyone will express gratitude and who they’ll express it to over the course of the week
  • Once a week, everyone writes a note of appreciation to someone for a specific reason

While it seems these rituals are forced rather than naturally occurring, regularly practicing gratitude ensures children will make it a habit so it can become second-nature.

Look for the silver lining

Its difficult not to dwell on all things we feel like children are “missing out” on right now. However, this is an opportunity to teach children resiliency. We can help children see that something good can come from difficult circumstances. Ask questions that help children look for the bright side in a tough situation. Ask, "What's something good that could come from something hard like this?" In really tough situations, allow children to sit with their feelings for a few moments; it’s important to make it clear that you can be both grateful and sad at the same time. You may give it some time before encouraging children to look on the bright side but helping your child do this often will teach them to do it on their own and they'll start to see that they have a lot to be grateful for, even on their worst days.

Model gratitude

A 2016 study published in Applied Developmental Science found that grateful adults tend to raise grateful children. This is most likely because children learn to be grateful by hearing and seeing the adults around them experience gratitude. Here are several ways you can model gratitude for children:

  • Say “Thank you.” Whether you thank the clerk at the store or thank a child for clearing the table, make sure you’re thanking people often
  • Talk about gratitude. Make it a point to share what you’re grateful for. Even when you have a rough day or something bad happens, point out that there’s still a lot to feel grateful for. Instead of complaining about the rain, talk about being grateful that the plants are being watered so you’ll have food to eat
  • Express gratitude. When children see you writing Thank You notes or sending a gift of appreciation to someone, you’ll teach them to do the same
Written by: Amanda Mills, IdahoSTARS Child Care Consultant