“Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues, it is the parent of all the others.” –Cicero
We have a beautiful massive tree in our backyard that drops it’s leaves by the billions each Autumn. Ok, not really billions, but when it’s time to bag them up it definitely feels like too many! As much as I drag my feet to get the rake out, I find myself admiring all the lovely colors, enjoying the crisp air, and watching my little one jump in the crunchy leaf piles. At the end of the day, I am so thankful I have a tree that reminds me to be grateful.
GRATITUDE AND SPEECH THERAPY?
Nature fascinates me. It’s so resilient, shedding itself season after season to grow stronger. The ecosystem working together to adapt to the changes in the environment; it getting nourishment from our Earth.
These are all things I wish for my children as well: the ability to adapt, to collaborate, to be resourceful, and independent. We are more able to achieve these goals when we are able to practice being thankful. That’s why teaching gratitude to our children, especially children with speech and language delays is so important.
As a speech pathologist, one of my main goals is to help children develop communication skills. This includes working on pragmatic language skills. Pragmatic language skills are social skills that allow people to engage appropriately during conversations. Some examples of pragmatic skills are:
- Understand another person’s point of view
- Understand and use nonverbal cues in conversation
- Recognize the needs of others
- Use language to describe emotions and feelings of yourself and others
- Take conversational turns
- Acknowledge your communication partner in conversation
- Maintain appropriate eye contact
- Give and receive praise
- Stay on topic
- Interpret a speaker’s tone of voice
- Ask for clarification
- Tell a story in an organized, coherent, meaningful way
So by practicing gratitude, we build social skills! Being grateful helps us understand when someone is feeling lonely or needing a hug and when we are truly appreciative of help that is offered to us. Being empathetic is a hard lesson to teach to kids, but by practicing gratitude we can make a better connection between empathy and thankfulness.
Gratitude must be taught and practiced, just like empathy and kindness. Quick lesson on cognitive development: At 12 months of age, babies become self-aware and learn they are able to move away from caregivers. By two years of age, toddlers continue experiencing the world, theirworld as it’s all about them and are understanding they are a separate person than their caregivers. But by three years of age, theory of mind has begun to develop, which is where the magic happens. Children at this age have their own opinions, questions, and independence. As frustrating as that may be for parents, preschoolers are really working on some great pragmatic social skills during this time!
Barbara Lewis, author of What Do You Stand For? For Kids says children as young as 15 to 18 months of age can begin to understand concepts that lead to gratitude. When you play peekaboo, or lift them up to reach a toy, or give them a snack they love, babies begin to understand that other people do things to make the baby happy. Between two and three years, young children are able to talk about (or at least point to) things and people that make them happy, and by four years old children can understand the more abstract concepts like kindness, care, appreciation, and love.
BENEFITS OF TEACHING GRATITUDE TO CHILDREN
- Foster empathy, kindness, appreciation
- Enhance sense of belonging
- Boost self-worth and self-esteem
- Build relationships with others
- Increase social skills
- Improve health (see research done by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. scientific expert on gratitude)
- Deal with adversity
HOW TO TEACH GRATITUDE
Gratitude is a very abstract concept, especially for children that depend on concrete cues or young children who aren’t able to understand abstraction yet. They may be thankful for physical objects, like their toys, house items, and foods. Developmentally, that may be where they child is able to start understanding gratitude. You can help them learn and practice thankfulness by using these strategies:
Use simple questions
“What makes you feel good? When do you feel happy? Who are you thankful for? What’s something good that happened today? Who is a good friend?”
Make gratitude visual
Thankful tree activity from Hands On As We Grow:
Gratitude Jar from Girls on the Run
Make sure your child hears you practice gratitude, either by thanking your child or another person or by noticing something that makes you feel appreciated.
Make receiving special
Talk with your child about how special it is to receive a gift from someone. That your child was chosen as a special person to receive a special gift that was picked out justfor them. Remind your child about how hard that person worked to pick out the perfect gift, spend their money, spend time carefully wrapping, etc. to show how special the exchange really is.
Make giving even more special
Involve your child in picking out a gift for another person. Consider giving handmade gifts this year. Show how we can give our time, help, and love as gifts to others as well.
Say no more often (Hard one!)
Practice intentional giving to your child. Gratitude is difficult when every desire is met on demand. Put the emphasis on the celebration and time spent together rather than all about gifts. Children can learn to be more grateful when they have to work a little harder or wait a little longer.
Support your child in writing thank you notes
A hand written thank you note is one of the best gifts in my opinion. Even if your child is too young to write sentences, encourage them to sign their name or draw a picture/decorate the card.
Create a kindness calendar
Help your child create a kindness calendar, with one simple thing each day that will help others. Check out this for a new calendar each month by Wonder Mom Wannabe.
Talk about your “Highs and Lows”
When you gather as a family during the day, introduce sharing each person’s “highs and lows” for that day. What are three things that were good today? How did that make you feel? What are some things that could have gone better? Don’t forget to share your own too!
So when the leaves start falling and the holiday season is upon us full of extra stress and indulgence, take a deep breath, watch your child marvel at colors and cooler air, and stop to say “thank you.” Your child is watching and learning from you.
How will you practice gratitude with your children this year?