Helping kids to develop gratitude has multiple benefits. It weakens self-entitlement because kids need to recognize that they have been gifted with something instead of feeling inherently entitled to it. Gratitude also promotes adaptive thinking, joy and a sense of meaning. This entry focuses on a few strategies for promoting gratitude in kids.
A good way to start is to do gratitude letters across the entire family. For that methodology, see this blog entry. Being on either end of a gratitude letter is usually a very enriching experience.
Families can also develop gratitude rituals. Before eating a shared meal, whether it’s all of the family or just part of the family, each person might mention 1-3 things that she is grateful for that day. These might be small things (e.g., the sounds of birds chirping in the morning) or big things (e.g., being on the honor roll). Moreover, if your family shares a spiritual practice of praying, prayers of thanksgiving can be offered each night for specific developments during the day.
There are also things kids can be trained to do on their own. For example, counting three blessings in the show can be a mood lifting habit, as can doing so right before bed. Some kids also find value in making a gratitude list once a week for things that happened that week. The research suggests that such practices promote positive feelings and attitudes. As is said: that which you pays attention to expands.
There are two traps to avoid. First, directing a kid towards gratitude usually wouldn’t be a good way to respond to that kid’s legitimate pain and suffering. Trying to direct a kid towards gratitude, when he is legitimately hurting, can make it harder for him to learn to cope adaptively with such experiences. Second, it’s important to try to be specific with expressions of parental gratitude and to not offer vague praise (e.g., a parent saying to a child: “I’m grateful that you’re so smart” is not nearly as helpful as “I’m grateful that you aced a difficult English exam today”).
Tolstoy said it well, “Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in it’s own way.” I think it’s fair to say that happy families, and individuals for that matter, regularly engage proportionate and specific gratitude.