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Trade 'Gimme' for Gratitude This Holiday Season

How to cultivate thanks in an age of entitlement, from modeling gratitude to creating a gratitude journal

Published on: November 24, 2015

What parent does not want to be acknowledged and appreciated for his or her hard work, commitment and sacrifices? I hear so many parents complain that their kids don’t appreciate what is done for them or provided to them. Many parents feel that their children are rude and disrespectful because the children are not saying thank you. I hear the words “spoiled” and “bratty” used often to describe kids who don’t show gratitude or appreciation. Sound familiar?

There is no better time than the holiday season to turn our focus to the concept of gratitude and turn around any negative trends we see with our kids. Gratitude can be developed and nurtured, in both young people and in ourselves. We cannot force our kids to be grateful, but we can influence them to be more grateful. Gratitude is a behavior that must be caught, and not taught.

One of the ways we can influence or nurture gratitude in our kids is by modeling this behavior ourselves. This might mean taking actions as simple as showing gratitude toward your child for doing the things they are supposed to do (cleaning up their messes, getting themselves ready in the morning or doing chores around the house). A simple “Thanks so much for getting the dishes done before dinner” can be enough to encourage your child to show appreciation toward you and others. 

Another very effective way of nurturing gratitude is by modeling it in your own relationships. This can be done with your partners, friends and even with strangers. If you practice in front of your kids, everyone in your family will develop a greater awareness of the importance of being grateful. They will also witness the impacts of that gratitude by seeing how it makes those on the receiving end feel. Our kids are more likely to do what we do than do what we say. Showing appreciation for the everyday things, the smallest things, will help foster gratitude in your children.

And there are so many benefits. Research from the Journal of Happiness Studies in 2010 confirmed that when people display gratitude, they experience less depression, are more pleasant to be around, do better academically (for example, they have higher grade point averages) and have a more positive outlook on life. And you might not be surprised to learn that research has also confirmed that people are more well-liked by others when showing appreciation and gratitude.

So, what can we do? Practice! Maybe you’re not in the habit of showing gratitude as much as you would like. Here are a few ideas to get you going:

  • Keep a gratitude journal.
  • Sign up for a 21-day gratitude challenge.
  • Create a ritual of sharing appreciation at the dinner table or at bedtime.

When keeping a journal, you can either keep a physical journal or use an online tool such as Thanx4. You can keep a family journal or help your children each keep their own. The goal is to write down between three and five things for which you feel grateful. The physical act of writing is important — don’t just do this exercise in your head. Try to spend 10–15 minutes each day for at least one week. Studies suggest that writing in a gratitude journal from one to three times per week might actually have a greater impact on our happiness than journaling every day, so don’t worry if you miss a day or two. 

A few pointers when writing your gratitude journal:

1. Be specific. Instead of writing “I’m grateful for my friends,” maybe expand your gratitude statement to “I’m grateful for having friends in my life whom I can count on and who help me out with my kids when I have an emergency.”

2. Savor surprises. Record events that were unexpected or surprising. These occurrences tend to elicit stronger feelings of gratitude. 

3. Write regularly and stay consistent. If you and your family are only going to write once a week, pick a day and a time that you know you will be available to journal.

We do not have to wait until the holidays roll around to give thanks or to think about cultivating more thankfulness in our homes and families. This should be something we do on a daily basis with and around our children. So, pick a practice that works for you and go for it! 

6 fabulous family journals

Q&A a Day for Kids: A Three-Year Journal

A journal for parents and children ages 4–10 (although the age range is flexible) to share the evolution of thoughts, feelings and dreams over the years. From the publisher: “Great for kids who want to keep a time capsule of their own whimsical thoughts and serious ideas about the world.” A question by children’s author Betsy Franco is featured for each day, with space provided for a response. 

Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration

Open-ended questions such as “What are three thoughts that made you smile today?” are interspersed with whimsical watercolor artwork and inspirational quotes, making this journal a great tool to encourage reflection and gratitude in kids, and to nurture your family’s creativity, mindfulness and self-motivation.

Just Between Us: A No-Stress, No-Rules Journal for Girls and Their Moms

Have you ever wondered what your mom was like at your age? Or what your daughter’s earliest memory is? What your mom thought the moment you were born? Or where your daughter would go if she could go anywhere?

Meredith and Sofie Jacobs have been sharing a journal since Sofie was 9, inspiring them to create this stylish journal to help other moms and daughters get to know each other in a new way. Thoughtful writing prompts and entertaining mini quizzes pave the way to discussing everything from friends and school to crushes and growing up. The journal features plenty of free space plus pages for drawing and making lists.

My Quotable Kid: A Parents’ Journal of Unforgettable Quotes

Designed for recording the funny, witty and outrageous things kids say over the years, this book can easily be used to record any daily thoughts, wishes or ideas from anyone in the family. Speech bubbles frame the thoughts on roomy pages, allowing for sharing and safekeeping.

Buddha Doodles Gratitude Journal

The Buddha Doodles Gratitude Journal was curated by Molly Hahn (“Mollycules”), the creator of the Buddha Doodles series, and includes brand-new doodles not published anywhere else. Each page has a different illustration and a space to write down what you are grateful for, and creative prompts and inspirational quotes help the writing flow. Also check out Hahn’s Buddha Doodles Gratitude Journal: Shining Your Light and Buddha Doodles Gratitude Journal: Interconnected.

Stories from My Grandparent: An Heirloom Journal for Your Grandchild

The prompts in this book will help grandparents use their own words to tell their life stories, from childhood to present day. Grandparents can share with their grandkids memories of school days, important lessons learned, wisdom gained from raising a family, and the hopes and dreams they have for their grandchild. Grandchildren can learn more about their grandparents’ lives, which will help cultivate a deep sense of respect and understanding.    

— Natalie Singer Velush

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