Isn’t it funny how we try to teach our kids life lessons and they end up teaching us? Lessons that we already know, but perhaps need a refresher on. Gratitude is one thing I strive to teach my young children and that they in turn teach me.
How do we teach gratitude in toddlers? Is it through actions? Maybe it’s what we say? Every day I am faced with relearning this lesson myself and then trying to teach it to them.
As we all know, a life abundant in gratitude definitely can have a positive impact on our attitude. So to begin teaching gratitude in toddlers, I want to break it down into three components: words, meaning, and actions.
The most simple building block for gratitude that we are all taught from a young age in our culture is our manners. Saying the words “thank you” is one of the most common ways we show gratitude in our society. So it totally makes sense that from a young age, kids learn that their words matter.
As a parent of two young children, I can’t even count how many times a day I say “use your words.” I feel like I am a hovering gratitude fairy above them constantly reminding them to say “thank you.” Sometimes it comes naturally, and then I literally do a victory dance in my house. Like, wait a minute, this actually clicked!
I have realized that words “thank you,” while simple, can mean so much . As moms we often don’t get credit for all of the things we do on a daily basis, so it truly pulls at my heartstrings when my kids acknowledge that they appreciate my efforts. Then of course we have to talk about how it makes us feel, when we hear those words…happy, grateful, appreciated, etc. This brings me to our next part.
A huge “aha” moment for me as a parent was when my child says they’re grateful about something, but perhaps said it with an attitude just to appease me. This was my teachable mom moment that he/she hadn’t yet connected the dots that their words do in fact carry meaning. That if the “thank you” wasn’t heartfelt that it negates saying it. Definitely a hard concept for toddlers to grasp at first. However when you take a minute to break it down for them using their emotions as tools, it certainly has helped us to get to that intention part on a level they understand. And that the words without feeling and intention are meaningless.
Actions seem to speak the loudest to toddlers, because they are such visual little beings. Showing gratitude through an act of kindness is one of my favorite ways to teach my toddlers about this concept.
We use acts of kindness as a reward system in our house. After my kids share whatever act of kindness they demonstrated, usually something adorable and toddler-like, we ask them how it made them feel. The response is always an astounding “GOOD!” For example: I listened to my teacher, I picked up a toy, I helped a friend at school. All of these acts of kindness are so simple, yet profound. These are easy things that my kids can do and feel proud about. My hope is that they continue to associate these gestures of kindness with gratitude and positivity as they grow older.
Like everyone else, 2020 has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for my family. At the beginning of the year when we were trying to settle into our never-ending stay-at-home days, gratitude was a focal point of our conversation. It was still winter, and we were stuck inside. So, the kids and I decided to get crafty one day and upcycled an old oatmeal container into a “Gratitude Box.” Then each day, sometimes five times in an hour, my kids would ask me to write down things they were grateful for. This included Django (our dog), mom making us supper, dad playing with us, food, etc. The box began to fill up. And so did my eyes with tears when I pulled them out one day to read them all. Parent win, concept grasped!
It was the simplest of things that they were grateful for, and it really put into perspective what is important. I also added a few of my own such as Netflix, wine, and the internet! This year particularly my kids have taught me that it’s the little stuff that matters the most. It’s not what you have, but who you are with.