Preschoolers are known to be driven by the “I want it now” response which includes decreased self-control and intense, unregulated changing on a whim.
It’s a beautiful fall day and you are out shopping with your child. You leave the store without a purchase because you didn’t find the item you were looking for. Your child begins to melt down, I mean completely fall apart. Why, you ask? Because nothing “special” was purchased for them while in the store. No, there wasn’t anything that they wanted, no trigger from a favorite character or color, just left the store empty-handed. This isn’t the first time they’ve left a store empty-handed but this time was the one that triggered the tantrum worthy of any mom’s no eye contact exit combined with a swift beeline out of the store.
I know you know what I mean.
The big looming questions that kept swirling in my mind were:
- What can I do to prevent this from escalating from normal toddler frustration to raging entitlement?
- How I can begin teaching children about gratitude, even my preschooler?
My gratitude practice keeps me grounded and helps me process frustrations and trials. It made sense to me that teaching children about gratitude could help them manage big emotions too. And what a fantastic skill to begin working on at a young age!
I turned to the experts in child development and psychology, my training in yoga and mindfulness, and my friends and family to get a collective of information to help me model a plan that would work for my family.
Studies have shown that one of the biggest contributors to how happy your life will be is how much gratitude you show. Healthy emotional responses to disappointment are just as important as your child being appreciative when something nice happens. Are they more disappointed when they don’t get what they want when compared to how happy they feel when they do get what they want? I collected great information from my sources.
These are some highlights that I found to help model my interactions in a way that supported my idea of teaching children about gratitude.
1. Model gratitude
As parents, we are the primary influencers of our kids’ behavior. Take time when you are together to point things out that aren’t material objects that make your situation special. Remember to be present for interactions with them. We won’t get playdough pizza from them forever so make sure they understand how special it is to you. This may sound basic, but treat them the way you want them to treat you, with respect, love, and kindness.
2. Reflect on the day and point out special moments as they happen
Notice little things, slow time down, and reflect.
We are always in a rush going here or there and it’s special to remember that our kids see things differently. They do not have the same concept of time or understand why we are in a rush to get somewhere. They are ready and primed to appreciate things and moments.
You can ask them questions or make observations like:
- “Remember those beautiful yellow leaves we saw at the park?”
- “Wasn’t it nice that the girl at school asked if you were okay after you fell?“
- “I’m so grateful that we are able to be outside today, it’s so warm and beautiful, it makes me feel happy.“
- “I love that we have our boots on so we can splash in puddles together.”
3. What motivates your child?
It’s easy for your child to identify material items that motivate them. Are they motivated by their favorite toy, character, or food? Those all offer pretty easy ways to motivate your child.
The question is, how can we, as parents, identify a child’s internal motivations?
What can we do as parents to facilitate this switch from material motivation to intrinsic motivation?
We can engage in activities that involve the community, and that build a sense of the collective good. We can seek out opportunities for personal growth. Some ideas include community clean-ups, visiting a senior center helping with age-appropriate tasks, and doing chores around the house. These types of tasks provide a chance for the child to feel proud, independent, and a part of something bigger. Through these activities, they will begin to have experiences that reinforce the principles of gratitude. This gives us as parents the perfect chance to acknowledge and celebrate with them along the way.
4. Find ways to help or give to others
The holidays are a great time of year to find volunteer opportunities for your family. Just remember to keep these types of activities up as people in need appreciate your support all year long. Community activities like food and clothing drives are great chances for children to see many people involved in making things special for those who don’t enjoy the same luxuries they do. When the playroom starts to get overcrowded and I notice my child is starting to age out of some of her toys, I ask her to pick a few to donate. Sometimes we talk about giving them to younger friends and sometimes we talk about organizations who can give toys to those in need who we do not know personally.
5. Read about gratitude
Reading books about gratitude is a great way to get the ideas flowing when you are teaching children about gratitude.
These points do not work in isolation they are collective and reinforce each other. Together they can be a foundation to mold the concepts of gratitude to the specifics of your family’s goals.
6. The last thing I implemented as a way of teaching children about gratitude was a play on a classic Gratitude Jar by upcycling our Halloween pumpkin into a gratitude-focused centerpiece.
Here is what I did:
Every day in the month of November my family and I take time to find some words of gratitude to write on our pumpkin. Giving our Halloween pumpkin new life for the month of November is an added bonus.
It brightens my day when I pass our gratitude pumpkin on the counter and it will make a great seasonal centerpiece for our table throughout the month. I think it would be a sweet Thanksgiving day activity to share our pumpkin with our family. I plan on inviting our friends and family to add words of gratitude to the pumpkin and create a visual representation of what makes our lives so special.
But on the daily, we write on our pumpkin after dinner when we are all together. My toddler enjoys having a topic of conversation to look forward to at dinner time, but I didn’t realize just how much it meant to her. I learned this lesson at 3 a.m. when I was woken up by a little voice saying “Mom, we didn’t do our gratitude today.” Despite the early morning foggy brain and distinct lack of gratitude, I quickly realized how special this daily ritual was for her. I brought her into bed and we named 3 things each that we were grateful for – no need to get out the pumpkin in the wee hours of the morning.
Very often I wonder if the things I do are wasted on our 3-year-old. Are these concepts too mature for a preschooler? The answer is, ABSOLUTELY NOT! She has now begun to identify things she is grateful for as they are happening.
I’m pretty sure there is nothing as beautiful as hearing a child appreciate the colors on the trees or how warm the sun feels in the fall. This helps to refocus my attention on the things that really matter, especially as the holidays approach.
When we place so much value on rushing around and being busy because we need to do or accomplish “things”, it’s easy to lose connections to gratitude. I started this practice to help my toddler and ended up getting more out of it than I ever expected.
Want to make a gratitude pumpkin to begin teaching children about gratitude in your own family? Here’s how to do it :
- Get a small to medium-sized pumpkin.
- Wipe it down with a wet cloth to clear it of any debris, dirt, or wax.
3. Using a permanent marker write a few words each day that represent what made your day one to be grateful for.
4. Place it somewhere special! You and your family are creating something to be proud of and it also helps you remember to complete it daily. It makes a perfect Thanksgiving centerpiece!
Pin this post and be sure to follow Vermont Moms on Pinterest.
Vermont Moms Insiders get exclusive content that you do not want to miss, so sign up today!
Guest Writer: Ann Marie Dundas
Ann Marie Dundas is a partner and mama to an awesome family of 3 including her wonderful fur baby. She makes it a point to always be learning and growing personally and professionally. Ann Marie loves gardening/foraging, health and wellness, herbal and functional medicine, and anything crafty.
Follow Ann Marie on IG @Whole_Life_Healthy_