Thanksgiving is a time to remember to be grateful for all that we have – but this concept can be quite difficult for young toddlers and preschoolers to grasp. Young children are naturally self-centered, so how can parents instill positive qualities such as thankfulness and gratitude into their little ones? Toddlers lack the emotional intelligence to fully understand how to express feelings of thankfulness, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t start practicing a spirit of gratitude while your children are still young.
Gratitude and thankfulness are important for a number of reasons. Gratitude has been linked to greater overall health, more meaningful relationships, and better satisfaction with life. A spirit of thankfulness can even improve sleep quality and physical health. Although thankfulness is an abstract topic that can be difficult for little ones to comprehend, here are some ways you can explain it to your children:
Thankfulness is acknowledging that there are good things in the world that we benefit from. Even young children can celebrate the good things in their lives, such as friends, school, toys, books, family, outdoor activity, vacations, and electronics. The next time your child grabs a special book to read or sits down to play with a new toy, let them know that you’re grateful for this amazing activity or toy, and they can feel thankful for it, too.
Thankfulness is acknowledging the people and things in our lives that bring good things to us. Thankfulness isn’t just about our physical possessions – it’s about the people in our lives that make it better. Does your child have a favorite aunt or a beloved playmate at school or daycare? Teach your child to verbalize her feelings of thankfulness for those people that enrich her life. Consider making a card together to let those special people in your child’s life know just how much you both appreciate them.
Thankfulness is appreciating the things that bring us joy. Some children might have a lot of toys; others might prefer to play outside. Some kids live in big houses with lots of space; others live in small apartments or with extended family. Some children travel and see the world; others are happy going to the neighborhood park. Although every child’s life is unique, they all have reasons to be thankful. Teaching your child gratitude from a young age can help them become more fulfilled and appreciative as they grow and mature.
Thankfulness is appreciating the people that make us happy. Physical possessions come and go, but the people in our lives are what remain constant. Teach your child to appreciate the special people in his life that make it more fulfilling, more exciting, and more fun. Whether it’s a grandparent, a friend, a babysitter, a cousin, or a sibling, teach your child to express love and appreciation for those amazing people in his life.
Modeling gratitude can serve as the foundation for teaching thankfulness to young children. Children copy the behavior they observe in their caregivers and learn by imitating those around them. Practice expressing gratitude to those around you by saying “thank you” to anyone that enriches your life in some way, whether it’s with a spouse, a cashier, or a friend! Children will learn through constant exposure.
You can encourage your young children to say “thank you” once they are old enough to understand it. If you are teaching your baby sign language, your child might already know the simple signs for “please” and “thank you.” Although your child might not fully grasp what the phrase means, it’s important to teach positive social skills from a young age. If your children are too young to understand gratefulness, consider simplifying it even more by focusing on emotions. Work with your toddler on identifying emotions and the situations that caused those emotions. Being able to label emotions is a complex skill that children won’t master until much later in childhood, but starting with a few simple emotions can open up the discussion with your child. Emotional intelligence will later lead to your child being able to identify and label the feeling of thankfulness and what situations or people might have caused that feeling.
As we approach the holiday season, this can be a great time to begin discussing thankfulness with your children. As they receive and open gifts from loved ones, prompt them to say “thank you” to the gift giver and express how happy the gift makes them feel. Remind them that even if they’re given something they don’t want or like, or it seems like someone else is getting a better gift, it’s still important to be grateful for what they have. Again, modelling is the best form of teaching for young children, so be sure that you are also expressing gratitude when you receive gifts yourself! You can also show your children how to write thank-you notes. If your little one is too young to write, consider doing a simple art project together to send as a thank-you card to a loved one.
Thanksgiving is a great holiday to spend with friends and family, and also a wonderful time to begin laying the foundations of a spirit of thankfulness in your little ones. They will watch and imitate you as they grow, so be sure to practice modeling gratitude in your daily life.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.