Teaching kids gratitude makes for better living and a kinder world

No one questions that instilling kindness and gratitude in children is important. However, the motivators can be surprising and the benefits deep and far-reaching,

Even something as horrific as the Sandy Hook Elementary (Newtown) tragedy of December 2012 has prompted ways to cultivate kindness and generosity from the darkness that unfolded. Kaitlin Roig-DeBelli was the Sandy Hook teacher who hid with her 15 young students in a bathroom that terrible day. The May 19 issue of People magazine, in its Heroes Among Us section, reports that Roig-DeBelli has found that teaching her students to do for others has helped her—and them—heal. People describes the program she launched called Classes4Classes.org, “where teachers can look for ways to help, post a need for another class and anyone can give.” The article says, “For a wish to be granted, the recipients must agree to pay the good deed forward.” She taught her students that “…when someone does something nice for you, you do something nice for someone else.” Sandy Hook kids used donated money to “buy an interactive whiteboard for a Tennessee class; that class helps another in Arizona.” People reports that to date, “the site has helped 45 classes in 10 states get supplies and teach generosity.”

Similarly, Newtown Kindness and the Charlotte Bacon Act of Kindness Awards were created to honor the memory of one of the victims. Included is the Kindness in Teaching Award to “honor the educators and leaders who encourage kindness in our children.”

A grateful heart often leads to giving, but gratitude benefits the “giver,” too. In a Wall Street Journal article, titled “Raising Children With an Attitude of Gratitude: Research Finds Real Benefits for Kids Who Say Thank You,” published last December, Diana Kapp writes, “Concrete benefits come to kids who literally count their blessings.” She adds that “Gratitude works like a muscle. Take time to recognize good fortune, and feelings of appreciation can increase.”

The WSJ article also cites research in the Journal of Happiness Studies, showing that teens who expressed higher levels of gratitude also “reported having stronger GPAs, less depression and envy and a more positive outlook than less grateful teens.”

Here are 5 really simple ways to help even the youngest kids strengthen their “gratitude muscle”:

1) Teach and remind about the “magic words,” of “please” and “thank you.”
2) Ask kids regularly to list one or two things they are grateful for. Consider making this part of a bedtime routine. (Explain to younger kids what “grateful” means.)
3) Help kids think of ways to “do something nice” for someone else, after being the recipient of something nice themselves. Also be sure they write and send thank-you notes for gifts. Old-fashioned paper notes still have a “certain something” that emails lack.
4) Involve kids in making cards and gifts for friends, neighbors, classmates, and family members who are ill or experiencing a challenge.
5) Find ways to incorporate the idea that there will always be people who have “more” and those who have “less.” Remind kids of Goldilocks and the idea of jussstttt right.

Most important of all? MODEL kindness and gratitude for your kids, in ways both big and small. In words and actions, let them see your leadership. Share your ideas for showing and teaching these important lessons!