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Teaching Children Gratitude

If you are not yet familiar with the field of Positive Psychology, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you. Within the research, the premises, and the outcomes of Positive Psychology lies great tools for parents to pass on to their children and for parents to use in their own lives.

Martin Seligman, known as the father of Positive Psychology, has authored several books guiding people toward the realization of Authentic Happiness (one of his book titles). His early research on helplessness eventually led to an interest in helping people resist helplessness. Dr. Jonas Salk, known for the development of the first polio vaccine, described Seligman’s work as a “psychological immunization” for children. By teaching children how to live optimistically, we build strong and resilient children who are better equipped to face life’s curve balls without becoming depressed, blocked, or ill-equipped.

Researchers like Mike McCoullough and Robert A. Emmons know a thing or two about optimism. Their extensive research on gratitude shows positive benefits beyond what anyone might have dared to imagine. In one of their joint research projects, they divided participants into three different groups. The first group was asked to keep a weekly journal where they tracked things they were grateful for. The second group was asked to track events that they considered displeasing. And, a third group was asked to list five events that had occurred during the last week.

The groups continued for ten weeks, and at the end of ten weeks they discovered that the participants keeping the gratitude journal were “more joyful, enthusiastic, interested, attentive, energetic, excited, determined, and stronger than those in the displeasing events group”. Beyond that – they showed increased resiliency, decreased levels of depression and stress, and an increase in actions that helped other people. They also exercised more and were more successful at moving toward the achievement of goals.

The research results within the field of positive psychology are enough for any parent to explore the concept more. How can you use positive psychology principles in your daily parenting practices?

Below are five easy ways to begin teaching your children about gratitude:

1. Start a gratitude journal. It may be a shared family book or each of your children may have his or her own. Create a nightly ritual of writing down and talking about something from the day that you are grateful for. Even young children can use inventive spelling, draw pictures, or recite while you write in order to participate.

2. Express yourself. Let your children hear your expressions of gratitude throughout the day. You can make these exclamations to friends, upon observing something beautiful in nature, or to your own children for something they have done.

3. Pause before you eat. Whether your family recites blessings before eating or not, you can pause to express your gratitude for the food you are about to eat. Help your children realize how far the food has come before it arrived at your table.

4. Volunteer. Family volunteer opportunities can be very effective in teaching gratitude. Serving food in a soup kitchen, visiting the elderly, or collecting supplies to aid victims of disaster are great ideas for getting started. Younger children can draw pictures to bring to hospital patients, collect their used toys to donate to children who aren’t as fortunate as they are, or visit a nursing home to play games with the elderly.

5. Make it a family practice. If you want to raise grateful children, then you must model gratitude. Make it a part of your own life by setting aside time each day to practice gratitude. Whether you keep your own journal, start your day with intention and end it with appreciation, or make prayer a part of your daily routine – making gratitude a habit will only enhance your life.

There are so many things to be grateful for each day. Help your children to always see the glass half-full, and you are on your way to raising authentically happy children.


Authentic happiness inventory questionnaire – you can start here:
Authentic Happiness Inventory Questionnaire
It is the first questionnaire under the Emotion Questionnaires

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