Gratitude in children can be taught or the concept of gratitude can be handed down through family tradition.  Through the work of Jeffrey J. Froh, Psy.D, associate professor at Hofstra University, gratitude in children is being researched and practiced. With John Kralik, A Simple Act of Gratitude, he revived a tradition that began when he was a young boy and received a silver dollar from his grandfather.

“Recently, he sent my daughter, his granddaughter, a silver dollar. She wrote him a thank-you note, just as I had done years earlier with my grandfather. So the message is being passed on.”

Dr. Froh is practicing and teaching what he researches. He related this vignette about his then 4-year-old: “We were outside the other day, and out of the blue my son said, ‘Look at how red those leaves are. Aren’t they beautiful?’ ”

Then he added: “Each night I ask my son, ‘What was your favorite part of school today?’ And at one time when he said he didn’t have a good day, I reminded him of his best friend. Then he came round and said, ‘Yes, he was the good part of my day.’ ”

Although I have often said I am too young to be “a nonna,” I am grateful every day for the little prince and princess in my life. However, when my children traveled, and I couldn’t seem to summon Mr. Sandman for the bambinos, I took a gratitude cue from Froh and we started a ritual before bedtime — drawing pictures of what made them happy and thankful during the day and putting them into a booklet. (Fortunately they love drawing. My daughter-in-law, an early childhood educator, displays their artwork on long curtain rods with clips.)

Children learn by example

To reinforce gratitude, researchers tell me that it is important for children to see parents practice what they preach.

  • Thank your child often even if he or she is doing required chores.
  • Encourage children to send pictures to grandparents, relatives, or friends explaining that they will be grateful and happy to receive their beautiful artwork.
  • Generate an attitude of giving. Ask children to select clothes or toys that you might give to children in need or share with neighbors.
  • Say “thank you” to spouses and friends in the presence of children and explain why you are grateful. 

Froh, whose work is funded by the John Templeton Foundation, says, “We think that in helping young people become more grateful, they will feel happier and more satisfied with their lives. In addition, it may make them less likely to lash out at others when they lose a game or feel hurt in some way.”

Walking a child through gratitude, scientific evidence

When we spoke in March, he suggested to me the concept of walking children and teens through gratitude thinking. Using the example of one student helping another he explained it in terms of intent, cost, and benefit.

 “Someone went out of their way to help you because they were in tune with your needs. The cost to that person was giving up recess to help you study. But you received the benefit — you received a B on a quiz instead of a C.”

Froh pointed out that data indicate grateful teens have more self-control and, during a time when their identity is forming, gratitude correlates with fewer reports of antisocial and delinquent behaviors.

He commented: “A lot of these findings are things we learned in kindergarten or things our grandmothers told us, but we now have scientific evidence to prove them.”

Together with Giacomo Bono, Ph.D., Froh is working on gratitude in children and teens including intervention strategies and applications for promoting gratitude in youth. They are co-authors of the forthcoming book Making Grateful Kids: A Scientific Approach to Helping Youth Thrive. Making Grateful Kids.

Year-round thank yous

As for John Kralik, his book 365 Thank Yous reminded me to set up a gratitude desk filled with notes, cards, and stamps. Through his adventure with thank you notes, he moved from being an attorney in debt to a Superior Court Judge, from tipping the scales to running marathons, from being depressed to becoming a positive person sharing his gratitude journey.

We can all benefit from a healthy dose of "the gratefuls." 

Copyright 2013 Rita Watson/ All Rights Reserved

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