Thank you, Dad, for teaching us to fish.

Father’s Day, as with Mother’s Day, is a good time to encourage the practice of gratitude and set an example for children. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, and Hofstra University have written about and talked with me about the value of reinforcing gratitude. Through the work of Jeffrey J. Froh, Psy.D, associate professor at Hofstra, gratitude in children is being researched and practiced.

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.”

It is important for children to see parents practice what they preach.  As such, this Father’s Day saying “Thank you” to the father figure in a child’s life reinforces the value of gratitude.  Other examples to children that will pay off with adults:

  • 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. 

Walking a child through gratitude, scientific evidence

Dr. Froh 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 Making Grateful Kids: A Scientific Approach to Helping Youth Thrive. 

This Father’s Day, expressing gratitude to the father or father-figure in a child’s life can reinforce the positive feelings associated with what Dr. Robert Emmons calls, “an attitude of gratitude.” Robert Emmons | Greater Good is the founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology.

References:

E. Froh, J. J., Fan, J., Emmons, R. A., Bono, G., Huebner, E. S., & Watkins, P. (2011). Measuring gratitude in youth: Assessing the psychometric properties of adult gratitude scales in children and adolescents. Psychological Assessment, 23, 311-324. (DOWNLOAD PDF)

Emmons, R.A. & Hill, J. (2001).  Words of gratitude for mind, body, and soul.  Radnor,PA: Templeton Foundation Press.

Copyright 2014  Rita Watson

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