By Elizabeth A. Sautter, M.A., CCC-SLP
Author of Make Social Learning Stick!
Gratitude is on the front burner around Thanksgiving, but it’s a mindset worth fostering year round. UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center reports that gratitude plays a major role in adult well-being and that grateful young adolescents (ages 11–13) are happier, more optimistic, and more satisfied with school, friends, and family than their less grateful peers. Likewise, grateful teens (ages 14–19) are more satisfied with their lives, more engaged in schoolwork and hobbies, and less envious, depressed, and materialistic than teens who feel less thankful.
The time to help your child cultivate gratitude is now and every day. Even very young children can understand the basics of being thankful and appreciative. Here are some tips from my book Make Social Learning Stick! to help foster your child’s attitude of gratitude:
As your child gets ready for bed, ask to hear about a person she is thankful for and why. If needed, give a prompt like, “I saw your friend Ann share her paints with you today. That must have made you feel thankful and happy.” Or, provide a model by telling your child about someone you feel grateful for.
Share Your Thanks
At Thanksgiving, or anytime a group of family and friends gathers together, take the time to express something you feel grateful for. Include the reasons you’re thankful for the people you’re with.
Help Someone in Need
Whether you serve a meal at a homeless shelter or bring soup to an ailing neighbor, the act of helping builds gratitude for the things you have in your own life. Doing a good deed also generates positive feelings in the “doer” and offers a chance for perspective-taking as your child learns about another person’s situation.
Make a List
You and your child can each create a list of things you’re thankful for and why, along with reasons you’re thankful for each other. Share the list with one another and with other family members.
Grow Your List
Add to the gratitude list on a regular basis. If writing is a challenge for your child, he can dictate ideas to you or express his thoughts through photos or drawings. He can also use a computer or iPad, adding illustrations for extra fun. Post the list on the refrigerator or in another central spot as a reminder of all the terrific people and things in your child’s life.
Reminding a child to feel grateful may have an impact, but setting a positive example holds far more power. Make it a daily habit to express your own gratitude through both words and deeds. Not only will your child have an excellent example to follow, but you’ll probably start to feel happier and more satisfied yourself.
About the Author
Elizabeth Sautter, M.A., CCC-SLP is co-director and co-owner of Communication Works (cwtherapy.com), a private practice in Oakland, California, offering speech, language, social, and occupational therapy. She is the co-author of the Whole Body Listening Larry (socialthinking.com) books. Her most recent book is Make Social Learning Stick! How to Guide and Nurture Social Competence Through Everyday Routines and Activities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her: website; Facebook; Pinterest; Twitter.