By Gail Belsky

Going around the holiday table saying what you’re thankful for is a great tradition, but it doesn’t teach your child what it really means to give thanks. Teaching gratitude is an everyday job -- and the benefits are huge.

“Kids who are more grateful tend to do better in school, report more satisfaction with their friendships and family relationships, have less depression and experience less envy,” says Jeffrey Froh, a Hofstra University psychology professor who has done numerous studies on gratitude in children. What’s more, kids who learn gratitude also learn generosity. When kids give of themselves and are appreciated in return, it reinforces the importance of giving and getting thanks.

Here’s how to make your child happier, healthier and more thankful:

Point out generosity.

Grandma and Grandpa may truly love coming to see the school play, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t sacrifice to do it. Remind your child that they had to drive an hour each way -- and give up a big chunk of their time -- to be there. When your child is sick and a neighbor makes a get-well phone call, explain how much thought and time went into it. Pointing out the effort behind people’s actions teaches your child that everyday kindness doesn’t just happen by itself!

Don’t focus on politeness.

Being grateful isn’t about thank-you cards and social obligation. You want your child to really understand and appreciate what others have done for her. Froh recommends stressing these ideas:


When people do something kind or helpful, it’s not an accident. They think about what you want or need, and what makes you happy.


People spend more than just money when they reach out to others; they give up their time too.


What you gain from other people’s kindness.

Show your gratitude.

Children learn from watching, so your actions may speak louder than your words. Make an effort to be thankful for even the little things and to visibly express it. When your child completes his daily chore, say thank you even though it’s his “job” to do it. If he gives you a hand, give him a hug. And when he’s been extra-helpful or kind, write him a note or draw a smiley face and leave it on his pillow.

Don’t dictate.

Thank-you notes and calls are standard procedure, but your child probably does them without thinking about it. When she comes up with the ideal type of thank you on her own, it’s much more meaningful. A drawing or poem that comes from the heart is an honest expression of gratitude. And that’s what you want: a child who is truly thankful and wants to express it.

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