by Bec Cavalôt

6 simple ways to teach your son about gratitude

child gives you a stick while playing on the beach on a beautiful sunny spring day

Each year, my American girlfriend stuffs her house full of food, wine and friends for Thanksgiving. But my favourite part of the day is when we all stand up and state what we’re thankful for. I always leave feeling full of gratitude (as well as turkey).

Gratitude should be a big part of Christmas too – after all it’s a time of giving and receiving, of family and friends.

But for my 4 and 6-year-old sons, whose lists for Santa are growing by the day, it’s more about whether they want a scooter or a skateboard than recognising how lucky they are.

Why is gratitude important?

Studies show that cultivating gratitude can help us live happier, more satisfied lives and enjoy increased levels of self-esteem, hope, empathy, optimism, and a greater sense of belonging. Research has also shown that children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and family.

Here are a few ways to help instil gratitude in your son:

  1. Help him count his blessings

Young kids are self-centred by nature but the more you weave gratitude into your daily life and language, the more they’ll ‘get it’. By making appreciative comments, such as “Aren’t we lucky to have bikes to ride to school?”, “Isn’t it great to live so close to the beach?”, or even “I’m so thankful that the sun is shining today”, I’m hoping my sons will start to recognise and be grateful for what they have, as opposed to focusing on what they lack (Nerf guns and Nexo Knights Lego apparently).

  1. Make ‘what went well’ part of his daily routine

Each night I write a gratitude diary before I go to bed, which helps me focus on the positive each day. My sons are too young to do this but instead, we’ve also implemented a ‘what went well’ discussion at the dinner table where we take turns to talk about the best bit of our day. Even if they’ve had a bad day, they have to find something good to say, and everyone else has to listen. The boys love it. In fact, the most challenging part is getting them to stop talking and start eating.

  1. Have him help around the house

How often have you given your son a job only to take over because it’s a) too slow b) too messy or c) you’d rather tear your own toenails off than watch him for a moment longer? But the more you do for him, the less he’ll appreciate your efforts. By insisting my boys set the table, put their clothes away and stack the dishwasher, they’re realising that all these little things take effort. And when they do help, I say thank you. Making your son feel appreciated will make him realise how important it is to express gratitude when someone does something that benefits him.

  1. Encourage him to write thank you cards

My grandma who lives in the UK recently gave me some money. I wrote her a thank you letter, which apparently sent me straight to the top of her ‘best grandchild’ list. Saying thank you in writing is a dying art but it’s worth the effort – it can make someone’s day to receive a hand-written note. My 4-year-old won’t get out of it either – he’ll draw a picture and I’ll write the note for him (using his own words of course). 

  1. Be a gratitude role model

Kids learn by example – often when my sons act out, I recognise my husband’s (and OK, occasionally my own) bad behaviour. But luckily, it works with the good stuff too. Remember to say thank you to anyone who’s helpful to you or to your son – from supermarket checkout workers to school crossing supervisors. And acknowledge your son when he does something you appreciate. By saying “I’m so happy you tidied up your toys,” or “Thank you for being kind to your brother,” you’re adding to his gratitude repertoire and the more you do it, the more of a habit it will become – for you and for him.    

  1. Get your son involved in acts of goodwill

When I tell my boys that there are people in the world who have much less than us, they tend to zone out. Actions speak louder than words. You don’t have to drag your son to the nearest homeless shelter; instead, bake a cake for a sick friend together, or ask him to pick out an old book or toy to donate to charity, particularly if he receives something new. Talk to your son about how happy the cake will make your friend feel, or how much another child will love his old copy of Dear Zoo.

My sons may not appreciate it as much as a new scooter (or skateboard, Nerf gun etc. etc.), but an attitude of gratitude isn’t just for Christmas; it’s a gift I can give them that will last for life, and will make my boys – and the men they will become – richer in so many ways.

Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School

Bec Cavalôt is a Melbourne-based writer and editor, and mum of two boisterous boys. This article is about

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