Eight Ways to Make Kids More Grateful
CSU Dominguez Hills professor Dr. Giacomo Bono studies how gratitude affects children’s development; he also gives undergraduate students the chance to learn how to conduct scientific research.
Newswise — With Thanksgiving around the corner, now's a natural time for parents to promote gratitude in their kids.
And while it can't hurt to participate in the tried-and-true practice of every family member and friend saying what they're thankful for around the Thanksgiving table, helping children truly understand gratitude takes a great deal more.
Giacomo Bono, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology in the College of Natural and Behavioral Sciences at California State University, Dominguez Hills, studies gratitude in kids ages seven to 18.
He's currently two years into a three-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation in collaboration with the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Bono's research, The Youth Gratitude Project, seeks specifically to understand the effects of gratitude on children's development.
Undergraduate Research at Work
Bono involves CSU Dominguez Hills students directly in his work; he now has eight undergraduate students and one graduate student working with him in his school-based research.
The students participate in data collection and quality, as well as writing and submitting abstracts for the Western Psychological Association conference; they also attend the conference.
"Some are getting independent research credit, some are volunteering, and some are getting paid," says Bono.
While there isn't yet a lot of research on kids and gratitude, according to Bono, the findings so far are telling; they show that grateful children are more satisfied with their lives and with their families.
These kids and teens also report being more hopeful; they're busier with hobbies; and they have higher GPAs.
Growing Grateful Kids
So how do you actively promote gratitude in kids? Here's Bono's advice for parents, grandparents and loved ones who want to inculcate a spirit of thankfulness in children and teenagers:
-Talk to them. "An early obstacle in terms of supporting gratitude is lack of communication," explains Bono. "It is a question of practice. Ask them about people and things they are grateful for—teachers, nature, their own room."
-Discuss specifics. Talk about the attributes of the people your child is grateful for having in her life. "Perhaps it's a teacher or coach who went out of his way to help," suggests Bono.
-Take note of the good and the bad. "Regularly assess with your child the positive and negative things in his life," says Bono.
-Teach them to recognize and nurture the benefactors in their life. "If a child is developing positively, I believe gratitude is present," Bono explains. "Part of this is building and strengthening relationships with positive people."
-Unplug. Bono suggests that parents set limits on the time they spend at work and simply be with their kids. "Make these discussions [about gratitude] an intrinsic part of their lives," he says.
-Ask questions. "If your child says he is grateful about something, don't just take it on face value. Ask why; your child should understand the why," recommends Bono.
-Model a thankful spirit. Bono says it goes a long way when you talk about what you're grateful for in your life by articulating good things that specific people bring to your life and other things you're thankful for, such as your spouse, your house, your health, and your neighborhood.
-Take advantage of teachable moments. "If there is an event in your child's life, such as a classmate who has a sick parent, talk to your child about how lucky she is to have her health," says Bono. "This is also a great time to practice empathy."
And beyond Thanksgiving, when it comes to the materialism and consumerism that can be so common this time of year, Bono says that gratitude is the perfect antidote.
"Materialism and gratitude are like oil and water," he says. Gratitude is psychologically fulfilling and things are not."