Seven Ways to Make
Gratitude a Meaningful Part of Your Children’s Lives

"Seven Ways to Make  Gratitude a Meaningful Part of Your Children’s Lives"For kids and adults, it’s easy to primarily look at Thanksgiving as a holiday that allows you to eat a lot of really good food while spending time with people you love.  Princess Ivana reminds parents of the real purpose behind this holiday—gratitude—and  shares tactics to help them teach their kids the art of being thankful.

Gratitude—or a lack thereof—is something all parents encounter during the process of raising children. At some point or other, what mother hasn’t looked on with horror as her child blurted out a variant of “I don’t like this! It’s not what I wanted for my birthday!” or worried that her kids took the many blessings and privileges in their lives for granted? While it’s fairly easy to drill polite responses (like saying “thank you”) into youngsters, instilling a true sense of gratitude in them can be considerably more difficult.

Here’s the good news: Your children aren’t destined to become entitled, self-centered members of the so-called “Me Generation.” According to Princess Ivana Pignatelli Aragona Cortes, there are concrete things you can do to make gratitude a meaningful part of your children’s lives—and the Thanksgiving season is the perfect time to start.

“For many reasons, a mindset of true gratitude is something that every parent wants to instill in his or her children,” says Ivana, a featured blogger at Modern Mom, founder of Princess Ivana—The Modern Princess , and coauthor of A Simple Guide to Pregnancy & Baby’s First Year .

“Gratitude will increase your kids’ personal happiness and perspective, and it will also help them to develop positive, authentic relationships with others,” she points out. “And yes, being truly thankful is one of the best ways to combat selfishness and ‘the gimmes.’ But did you know that a consistent practice of gratitude also encourages better health, sleep, emotional well-being, and improves academic performance? Perhaps most important of all, it helps us appreciate the good things in the world, large and small. It prompts us to stop and remember that we are all interconnected.”

While parents can (and should) encourage their kids to live with gratitude all year round, the Thanksgiving holiday is a perfect time to start modeling and teaching an attitude of true thankfulness.

Here, Ivana shares seven tactics to help you transform gratitude from an abstract concept to a reality that your children live in and appreciate:

Share your gratitude out loud. Especially for young children, the concept of feeling gratitude (as opposed to simply saying “thank you” when prompted) can be a difficult one to grasp. Youngsters will better connect to thankfulness when you explain what you’re grateful for and why. Look for teachable moments and narrate them as often as possible.

For example: “I’m really thankful that there’s a grocery store so close to our house, because it allows me to prepare fresh, healthy meals for our family.” “I’m so grateful for my bed, because a good night’s sleep helps me to enjoy the next day.” “I’m thankful for hot tea, because it tastes good and holding the cup warms up my hands on a cold day!” “I love going to the library. Aren’t we lucky to be able to check out so many interesting books and read them together?”

Explain that you can be thankful for people as well as things. Once again, especially if your children are young, they may not instinctively realize that gratitude can be felt for people as well as things. Make sure you model this concept throughout daily life. For example: “I’m so thankful for your dad—he loves all of us so much!” “I’m thankful for your preschool teacher because she is teaching you such interesting things!”

“You want to get your kids into the habit of valuing other people for who they are and what they do,” Ivana explains. “And don’t forget to express gratitude for your kids themselves! As often as possible, I tell my children that I’m so grateful to be their mother, and I thank them for everything from their hugs and kisses to their willingness to share toys with each other. This type of praise helps them develop positive self-esteem for the right reasons.”

Make gratitude a daily habit. All habits are formed through repetition. That’s why Ivana recommends that you designate a time each day to name a few things you’re thankful for. Ask your kids to participate, too. Dinner and bedtime are both good opportunities for the family to talk about their day and to name things they were thankful for.

“Another way to infuse gratitude into your family’s daily routine is to name something you’re grateful for every time a disappointment occurs,” Ivana adds. “Find the silver lining, if possible.”

Say “thank you” as often as possible. Sharing the things you’re grateful for within your family is commendable. But it’s even better to tell others when you’re thankful for something they’ve done. Let your kids see you saying “thank you” to the cashier who rang you up and bagged your groceries, to the sales associate who helped you find the light bulb you were looking for at the hardware store, and to your spouse when he reaches a box of pasta on the top shelf.

“Saying ‘thank you’ in everyday situations is a great way to teach your kids to ‘live’ their gratitude,” Ivana asserts. “Explain that saying ‘thank you’ makes the other person feel good about themselves—and knowing that you’ve made someone else’s day better boosts your mood, too. Keep in mind that verbalizing their gratitude will help your children to build productive and meaningful relationships now and throughout their lives.”

Help the thank-you note make a comeback. According to some cynics, the thank-you note is a dying art—but that doesn’t have to be the case in your family. Buy a pack or two of generic thank-you notes or blank cards (they don’t have to be fancy!) and encourage your children to use them when they receive a gift or when they want to express appreciation for something another person has done.

“For instance, your child might write a thank-you note to her soccer coach at the end of the season or to her babysitter for giving extra homework help,” Ivana says. “You can allow younger kids to dictate while you write, and then help them sign their names (or include a doodle) at the end of the note.”

Don’t give in to the “I wannas.” You’ve heard them before: “I want this! I want that!” And you’ve probably also noticed that the more often you give in to the “I wannas,” the more frequently you encounter them.

“Yes, it’s fine to buy your kids the latest fashions, top-of-the-line electronics, and the toys they want more than anything in the world…as long as you do it sometimes and not all of the time,” Ivana comments. “Sometimes the best word you can say is ‘no.’ Don’t feel guilty! Remember that you’re teaching your children to truly value and respect the things they do have and to appreciate every blessing in their lives. Whenever possible, tie rewards to effort so your child understands the meaning and pride of a job well done. If things come too easily, he won’t feel or understand true gratitude.”

Encourage teamwork and community involvement. Pitch in! Thanksgiving, as well as the subsequent holiday season, offers many opportunities to volunteer on community projects for those in need. Try to find a way your whole family can give back: volunteering at a nursing home, collecting items for food drives, or helping to prepare dinners for the homeless.

“My family used to sing carols at a nursing home every Christmas,” Ivana recalls. “We also distributed food and volunteered in poor neighborhoods. Some of my earliest and happiest memories involve sharing my family’s good fortune with others. The values that prompted those traditions are still with me today in how I live my life. I definitely want to pass them on to my children.”

“Yes, encourage your children to enjoy Thanksgiving, as well as the fun, food, and festivities that go with it,” Ivana concludes. “But also take time to consider the true meaning of ‘thanks’ and to think about how gratitude might look ‘in action’ for your family. Raising grateful children is truly one of the best ways to create a brighter tomorrow, not only for them but for the world at large.”

Ivana is the author of A Simple Guide to Pregnancy & Baby’s First Year, which was cowritten with her mother, Magdalene Smith, and her sister, Marisa Smith. Their blog, Princess Ivana—The Modern Princess , is a blend of humor, practical advice, and lifestyle tips on the essentials. Ivana is also a featured blogger on Modern Mom.