I must admit, one of my great joys as a grandma is buying gifts for my grandkids. I love hunting through stores and garage sales for just the right present. There is an amazing choice of cute clothes, brilliant books, and terrific toys to coax the money from my wallet. Especially around their birthdays and holidays, it is easy for me to go overboard with my gift giving.
You may think the latest American Girl doll, fashion accessory, or video game will be the ultimate gift for your grandchild, but an even greater gift a gung ho grandma can give to this child is the gift of gratitude. Gratitude is one of the most important character traits I want my grandchidren to learn … living a life with gratitude will help form who they will grow up to be.
Jeffrey Froh is an associate professor of psychology at Hofstra University and a researcher about kids and gratitude, who is coauthor of a book called, Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character. He said that research has shown that kids who practice gratitude are “more satisfied with their lives, have stronger peer and family relationships, have higher GPAs, and are less depressed.” These are all things we would like to help develop in our grandchildren, but how do we encourage more gratitude?
You may worry that maybe you have missed the bus when it comes to talking to your grandchildren about being appreciative. Don’t worry, because Froh says, “And the thing about gratitude is, you can learn it at any age.” That means whether your grandkids are 2 months or 14 years old, you can teach them to be more grateful for the things they have in their lives.
Here are 7 ideas to foster an attitude of gratitude in your grandchildren …
1. Teach them to say thank you
So many kids (and even some adults) don’t even think to say thank you to others when they do something for them. It is not something that necessarily comes naturally to children… it needs to be intentionally taught.
Here is a good way to teach your grandchildren to say thank you to others …
A. Look the other person in the eye.
B. Tell the person what you are thankful for.
C. It is also nice if they finish with the person’s name. “Thank you for the new bike, Grandpa” or “Thank you for taking us on the field trip, Mrs. Stewart.”
Telling people thank you is just basic good manners and essential for showing gratitude.
2. Tell them thank you and let them hear you thank others
There are the sayings “give respect to be respected,” and “children learn to appreciate by being appreciated”. Thank your grandchild for putting away the toys, for sharing with her cousin, for waiting patiently for you to finish a phone call. Thank her for just being an awesome kid. Show her how it feels to be thanked and have her efforts recognized, so she can see what gratitude sounds like and that it can be part of her daily interactions.
Our grandchildren learn so much by watching us. We can tell them to be grateful, but showing them what that means is so much more powerful. Talk about the kind thing a neighbor did, and express how much you appreciate it. Thank a stranger for holding a door open for you. Tell grandpa thank you for making dinner in front of the grandchildren. Let your grandkids hear you express appreciation for these things that are so easy to take for granted.
3. Have them focus daily on things they are grateful for
It can be very easy to not recognize all the wonderful things to be thankful for each and every each day, especially the small things.
I am very proud of my husband. For the past 2 years, every night he takes a few minutes to write in a notebook he bought at the Dollar store (his Gratitude Journal). He writes 3 things every day that he is grateful for. It may be an amazing event, like the birth of a new grandchild or starting a new job, or it may something simple, like being able to watch a basketball game on TV in peace, the leaves changing color, or getting a good night’s sleep. It focuses him on keeping his eyes looking towards his blessings, instead of only his problems.
This same habit can influence your grandchild to be more grateful. Each night they can think of 3 things from that day that they are grateful for. Buy them a notebook to use as their own Gratitude Journal, or they can do it on their computer. Have their parent record what they say, if they are too young to write it themselves, or they could write it privately.
They may not wish to record their ideas … instead it could be part of the nightly bedtime talk with their parents. Their parents could ask them every night what are 3 things they are thankful for from their day. This will get them thinking about how much they have and how lucky they are. When they are sleeping over at grandma’s house, you could have that special bedtime discussion with them. It is lovely for a child to go to sleep having just talked to a parent or grandparent about the good things in their lives.
4. Write thank you notes
Okay, in this day and age this may seem a bit old-fashioned, but I assure you it is a wonderful tool to help teach gratitude. They help children to realize that the person who gave them a gift or did something especially nice for them is worth being recognized and acknowledged.
When one of my son-in-laws was only first dating my daughter, we had him over for supper. Afterwards, he sent me a thank you note and I was so impressed (he said his mother had taught him it was important). It made me feel he really appreciated my efforts in feeding him (and he may have wanted to score some brownie points with his girlfriend’s parents, too).
There is something powerful when a child takes the time to recognize how someone else has blessed them in some way by writing them a thank you note. They can send a card, or if they are younger they can draw a picture. Another modern option is to send the person an email.
5. Look for ways to give back
There are so many ways to do something with your grandchild to help them give back to your community and to those in need. Together, donate toys or food to organizations who help struggling families. Give “12 Days of Christmas” presents to an elderly neighbor. Volunteer to help your local shelter serve a meal or make care packages for them to give out. Visit someone in an old folks’ home. Encourage your child to put part of her allowance in the Salvation Army kettle at Christmas. Participate together in a walk-for-a-cause.
I just watched a video on Youtube of a girl, about 9 years old, who was at a restaurant with her mom and saw a homeless man through the window, sitting out on the street. She asked her mom if she could give him her food and then took the plate out to him. He looked at her in amazement and after she had left you could hear him mumbling, “She gave me steak and potatoes!” When the little girl came back inside, her face all smiles. Her mom asked her how she felt, and the girl replied, “I liked it!” What a great life lesson she learned in that experience!
Help your grandchild see beyond their own small world into the community around them and to serve others.
6. Talk to your grandchild about developing countries
As a family we spent 17 years living in Dubai, in the Middle East, and we travelled to many poor countries together. My four kids may have complained about the grungy hotels we stayed in, the smells, the scary bathrooms, and the less-than-stellar food we ate during our trips to these developing countries, but I wouldn’t have traded staying at a 5 star hotel for what they learned about how much of the world lives. They always returned home so very grateful for the opportunities they had and the comforts they lived with. Any sense of entitlement was squashed.
As a grandma, you do not have to take your grandchild to a poor nation to teach them a sense of gratitude for what they have (though if you could take such a trip, it is a magical thing). Talk to them about how people less fortunate than them struggle to survive. Discuss how some countries do not have clean drinking water or medicines available. Discuss the sacrifices that some families have to make just to send their children to school. If you get to tuck your grandchild in at night, talk about how some children in the world are not so lucky to have warm beds and a fridge full of food.
There are documentaries about children growing up in developing nations that you could watch with your grandchild and discuss them afterwards. You may want to sponsor a child together through one of the many legitimate agencies out there, like Food for the Hungry, and have your grandchild write the child a letter. Help them see how blessed they are to be born in a place that gives them so many more opportunities than other children are afforded.
7. Set limits on gifts
I know, I know, it is always fun to give your grandkids presents, but do it within reason. Jeffrey Froh, the author of the book called Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character, that I mentioned before, says, “My wife found a great guide that says, “Get one thing they need, some things to read, one thing they want, and some things to wear.” That way you limit toys and play up more important items like books and clothing. I also buy almost everything for my grandkids at thrift stores and garage sales … all those perfectly wonderful treasures that are inexpensive and being recycled by us using them again.
Another thing to consider: give the gift of experiences, such as going to the zoo together or taking your grandkids on a day trip, instead of giving toys. “Experiences are a hundred times better,” says Froh. Kids can remember experiences forever and get happiness from them in both the short- and long-term. Froh adds, “With experiences kids can savor the past by reminiscing by how great the vacation was, savor the present by being mindful in the moment while it’s happening, and savor the future by anticipating the vacation to come.”
8. Regularly Thank God
(This idea only applies if your family is religious)
When you say prayers with your grandchild, remember to thank God for the blessings He has given you and encourage them to do the same. Be specific … don’t just say, “Thank you for my friends,” instead express, “Thank you for Tania bringing us dinner this evening on such a busy day. I am grateful for such a kind friend.” Teach them to bless their food before eating, that they learn to recognize that not all children get to eat 3 square meals a day, and they should be grateful for the food they have before them.
Always ask God to bless those you know who have special needs or those in the world less fortunate than you. As your grandchild watches your example and as you specifically teach the importance of showing gratitude to your Heavenly Father, gratitude will grow.
Gratitude is like a muscle … it needs to be exercised regularly in order to grow. Grandma can help those muscles get a good workout!
Do you think gratitude is important? How do you help teach gratitude to your grandchildren? Leave a comment below and share your experiences with us!
And if you like the idea of encouraging grateful grandchildren, please share it with other grandmas!