Gratitude means feeling thankful and appreciative for what you already have. By just taking the time to recognize what we are grateful for, we can become happier, more relaxed, and keep a positive mindset. Encouraging kids and young adults to develop gratitude has been an interesting area of study. Some research highlights that getting in tune with your gratitude help social, health, and emotional well-being. Just a few examples include better relationship skills, more trusting of others, fewer feelings of stress, better ability to bounce back from challenges, reduced feelings of jealousy, and improved quality of sleep. In order to really teach and encourage gratitude with kids and young adults, we have to first understand it ourselves, though.
So how does gratitude really make us happier? It just makes sense, really. The more you pay attention to the positive things in your life, the happier you will be. Best of all, there are truly SO many things to be grateful for each and every day. Too often, we overlook the small things (and even the big things) that add to our lives. You might be grateful for: Your sister helping to clean up after a family dinner, the smell of rain in the spring, how great you feel after a morning workout, the taste of your favorite dessert, or the ability to stay in touch with your cousin who is thousands of miles away. Talking and writing about those things we are grateful for really brings them back to life. Once you do, you realize how much you really have to be grateful for.
Here are five simple ways you can encourage gratitude with kids and young adults:
1. Say “thank you”. And encourage others to say it, too. Make it a normal routine to express gratitude when someone does something kind. Not only will it help you express your gratitude, but it can be a quick statement that means a lot to someone else. Best of all, it really doesn’t take any time at all.
2. Use gratitude slips. These are a simple and really fun way to tell someone else you appreciate them. Print these free gratitude slips on different colored paper and hang them around. When someone wants to use one, they can just simply rip the slip off and kindly say “thank you”.
3. Start gratitude journals. One of the best ways to practice showing your gratitude is by writing in a gratitude journal. All it takes is 5-10 minutes per day that you dedicate to writing in a journal about what you are thankful for. If kids struggle with writing skills, they can simply make bullet points or lists. Gratitude journal writing is a fantastic activity to do in the morning to start the day off with a positive mindset, or in the afternoon to bring positive closure to the day. Teach kids that they can write about anything: feeling healthy, a certain best friend who can be trusted, or being able to watch the phases of the moon. Over time, research indicates that gratitude journals help build positive thinking skills and increase happiness. These effects don’t just happen overnight, but are grown over time.
4. Make a gratitude jar. Just use any old jar. Clean it up and place it somewhere special. Once in a while (or every day, if you choose) practice writing down at least one thing you are grateful for. Write your gratitude note on a small slip of paper, fold it up, and place it in the jar. When the jar gets filled, open the jar and read all the things you are grateful for. Not only does it encourage kids to find and write more things to be grateful for so they can fill the jar, but it’s fun to reminisce and remember all the little things we have in our lives when we review them. This is also something easy that kids can do at home with their families.
5. Create a gratitude club. Find some eager students who want to work together to create a more positive community in your school or organization. Students can develop ways to share and encourage kindness and gratitude with others.
Teachers, parents, counselors, and other adults can get a lot out of teaching gratitude to kids and young adults. If you focus on the positive things in life, you are just more likely to feel happy. In turn, you will return that happiness by being kind to others. It really becomes a cycle of kindness and a positive climate. While focusing on gratitude is great for all students, it can be especially beneficial for kids with special needs or emotional struggles. This includes kids struggling with anxiety, depression, anger, and other behavioral issues. By focusing on the positive, kids can build their own self-esteems over time. I have created a Gratitude Workbook where you can get all of these ideas and more resources for teaching gratitude. Best of all, not only will kids benefit from practicing gratitude, but all adults will, too.