As we head into the season of giving thanks, I recently asked my 6-year old what he's thankful for. His first answer warmed my heart, without hesitation he said, "My family and my friends". But then he soon followed with, "and Bey Blades, and Bakkugans, and Pokemon". While I'm just happy we made the cut and I understand his toys brings him happiness at this age, I couldn't help but wonder what more I can do to instill a sense of thankfulness for the intrinsic things and all the things we're fortunate enough to be blessed with. Ya know... not just the physical and material things.
Andrea Hussong specifically studies how interactions between parents and children can foster gratitude. She is the director of the Center for Developmental Science and a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and says that by helping young children learn to deeply receive things in their lives, it will help them internalize genuine experiences of gratitude.
Andrea Hussong breaks down gratitude into 4 parts:
What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful
How we THINK about why we have been given those things
How we FEEL about the things we have been given
What we DO to express appreciation in turn
While most parents are super-great about teaching good manners and focusing on the #4 part of gratitude, "what we do to express appreciation", for instance saying "thank you" in response for receiving something - once children are beyond 3-5 years old, they have the cognitive ability for parents to begin focusing on #1 - #3 and the experiential part of gratitude.
Here are some questions she specifically recommends asking to help your children learn how to frame gratitude:
NOTICE: What have you been given or what do you already have in your life for which you are grateful? Are there gifts behind the material gifts for which you are grateful, like someone thinking about you or caring about you enough to give you the gift?
THINK: Why do you think you received this gift? Do you think you owe the giver something in return? Do you think you earned the gift because of something you did yourself? Do you think the gift was something the giver had to give you? If you answered no to these questions, then you may be more likely to be grateful.
FEEL: Does it make you feel happy to get this gift? What does that feel like inside? What about the gift makes you feel happy? These questions help the child connect their positive feeling to the gifts that they receive in their lives.
DO: Is there a way you want to show how you feel about this gift? Does the feeling you have about this gift make you want to share that feeling by giving something to someone else? Prompting children after experiences of gratitude in order to motivate acts of gratitude, whether they be acts of appreciation or paying it forward, may help children connect their experiences and actions in the world.
I'm hopeful that by prompting my Little Guy to Notice-Think-Feel his way through this holiday season he will soon be able to unassistedly link his gratitude to less tangible things in his life and in turn see all the wonderful things we have to be thankful for.