Teaching young kids gratitude extends beyond the holiday season


SAN CARLOS — As the holiday season approaches, it is the perfect time to teach young children an important life lesson about gratitude that will last throughout the year.

Gratitude is a higher-level concept that can be tricky to understand for toddlers and preschoolers, who tend to be self-focused at their developmental stage. Talking with young children about being thankful for not only material things, but for acts of kindness from others, is one way to help them learn.

So, how do we teach our children to be grateful? Here are some tips that Arizona’s early childhood agency, First Things First, gathered from child development experts:

Teach children to say thank you to everyone who does something for them – their server at a restaurant, the older sibling who helps them pick up toys, or the friend who gives them a birthday gift.

Talk about the things you are grateful for. This can be done in many ways, from a blessing before dinner to keeping a family gratitude journal.

Tell your kids why you are grateful for them. Remind your children of your own gratitude by using specific reasons why they are special and loved.  For example: I appreciate the way you help your brother tie his shoes.

Support a charitable event or organization. Whether you are donating old clothes or toys, participating in a food drive, or even baking cookies for a new neighbor, talk to children about what those actions mean to those who receive the kindness.

Be consistent. Like all skills, gratitude is not learned in one lesson.

“Teaching gratitude is important to do at a young age because every parent desires a happy future for their child,” said Trena Antonio, a minister at Freedom Holiness Church in San Carlos. “Teaching your child to be thankful in all things results in a happy life.”

Antonio has worked with FTF to help share with her faith community about the importance of early childhood and how the first five years offer the opportunity for children to develop the skills they need to be successful students and successful adults.

“My advice for parents would be do not give up, continue to be your child’s role model by saying ‘Thank you’ often,” Antonio said.

Research shows that thankful people are usually more optimistic and are less depressed and stressed. So, when we teach our children to appreciate what they have – and what others do for them – we are helping them to become happier, healthier adults.

About First Things First — As Arizona’s early childhood agency, First Things First funds early learning, family support and children’s preventive health services to help kids be successful once they enter kindergarten. Decisions about how those funds are spent are made by local councils staffed by community volunteers. To learn more, visit FirstThingsFirst.org.

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