How to practice gratitude with children & reflect on 2020

By Karla Gilbert

Karla is an accredited Nutrition and Health Coach. As a mum of two girls, she has a few ideas for those looking to shift their mindset after a truly unprecedented year.  

Without a doubt, 2020 has been one the toughest years the modern world has endured. Amidst the gloom, we’ve undergone lockdowns, missed celebrations with loved ones and readjusted our life to suit working from home with children by our side.

We can be forgiven if we feel deflated after the year that was, but there are also many important aspects we can take from it.

With plans and appointments wiped from the diary, this was a year full of realisation with the things we previously took for granted. Gratitude took on new meaning. From feeling the sun on our skin, scoring some toilet paper at the supermarket and to being able to have a haircut. Beauty was found in places we once overlooked, and it was perhaps the tap on the shoulder we all needed.

While fostering gratitude plays a major role in an adult’s everyday wellbeing, how does this correspond to enhancing our child’s life?

Researchers at the University of North Carolina found gratitude develops quickly around ages three to five. Children at this age are able to relate to perspective-taking and emotional knowledge, with gratitude being an experience that has four parts:

  1. What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful.
  2. How we THINK about why we have been given those things.
  3. How we FEEL about the things we have been given.
  4. What we DO to express appreciation in turn.

Younger children, when prompted, may only engage in some of these parts but it offers a platform to leverage off in regard to helping our children learn about gratitude.

Apart from modelling to our children the behaviours we would like them to exhibit, what other ways can we encourage children to grow their own gratitude seeds for the future?


Four ways to foster gratitude in your child

1. Be a cheerleader in nurturing relationships

Being thoughtful of others through your child’s own thoughts and feelings may be the key to fostering gratitude more specifically. Use opportunities such as birthdays/ Christmas to ask questions such as:

  • How does it make you feel to receive this gift? What makes you happy about this gift?
  • Is there a way you can show that person how you feel about this gift? Do you feel like giving/ saying something special back?

2. Discover what is meaningful to your child

Helping unearth passions in your child’s life from a young age helps to deliver purpose.  Our identities and the ‘rules’ we live our life by are developed from childhood around our experiences, attitudes, beliefs, values and dreams. Teach your child they can make a difference and they are part of the bigger picture and have a place in the world. Quench their thirst in interests they gravitate towards and encourage them to learn as much as they can about it.

3. Talk about gratitude

Make it a point to share what you are grateful for each day. Voice what is going on in your head, even if you’ve had a not-so-kind day, point out that there are still many things to be thankful for. Perhaps it is raining, and your child is missing a birthday party, you could talk about being grateful the birds in the trees and the plants in the garden are having a good drink of water.

4. Encourage your child to give to others

Each child has the ability to show their appreciation to others. Perhaps it could be artwork they give to dad as he enters the house after a long day at work, a plate of home-baked cookies to a neighbour who has been feeling lonely lately or giving old toys and clothes to charity. Expose your child to ways they can help others so they too can understand what it feels like to be on the receiving end of giving.

Life is so much sweeter when we can find teachable moments in our day – not just for the benefit of our child but also for avoiding complacency in our own day!