1. Feed Your Kiddo "Emotional Snacks"
The best way to help your child form a gratitude habit is to form one yourself, as well. Carrie Contey, PhD., a parenting and family-life expert and co-founder of the Slow Family Living movement, recommends recognizing and articulating, five things you appreciate about your little one each morning. For example, upon waking up say, "Ooh, I'm so grateful I get to see you this morning!" Then, while eating breakfast, tell your child, "What fun it is to share a meal with you." As you say goodbye in the morning, say, "Thank you for a beautiful morning, and thank you for being in my life."
These "emotional snacks," as Contey dubs them, will help keep little ones feeling balanced, regulated, and full of your positive, emotional energy.
"Not only will they be more cooperative throughout the day as a result," she says, "but they'll also pick up the language--and habit--of gratitude by being around people who are speaking and practicing it."
2. Say Grace (Your Way) Before Meals
Saying "Grace" before eating doesn't have to be religious (although it can be, if that's your thing). Tristan Kladyzk, a Montessori teacher in Austin, TX, sings a song with her class of three- to six-year-olds before lunchtime each day as a way of building a culture of civility and gratitude in the classroom. Its lyrics are:
We are thankful to be together / Let the love flow in our hearts.
"I ring a bell once all of the children are in their seats, and we sing this song twice in a row, all together. Everyone really enjoys it," Kladyzk explains. "It's a way of pausing before eating to make sure everyone in our small community is present and included. I've used it as a jumping-off point, too, for discussions about having gratitude for things we sometimes take for granted, at any age, like healthy food to eat and clean water to drink." Saying some form of "Grace" with your family before eating together will help small children develop awareness and appreciation on a daily basis.
3. Go for a Gratitude Walk
In his book A Pebble for Your Pocket, Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh describes a walking meditation practice called "Yes, Thanks." To do this, go for a walk with your child. Take two steps as you inhale, and say, "Yes, yes." With your exhale, and another two steps, say, "Thanks, thanks." Hanh suggests that even walking in this way for five minutes will bring children (and parents!) a sense of peace and joy.
"We can all practice saying 'Yes,'" he writes, "as sometimes we are too accustomed to saying 'No.' Learn to say 'Yes' to the blue sky, to the light of the sun, to the beautiful planet Earth, to the birds, to the trees. There are many wonderful things around us … When you say 'Thanks' you are full of gratitude, which is a beautiful thing."
Bonus tip: This is a perfect practice to do with toddlers, who already walk very slowly and notice, well, everything along the way. Try letting your child simply lead you on a walk; say "Yes, thanks," to each flower … and centipede … and rock … (and so on) he or she shows you. Your child will feel seen and appreciated, and you will feel grateful for his or her natural pace and unique perspective.
- By Taylor Hengen Newman