We’ve all seen it happen. A child is opening gifts when she gets a playset she already has. Rather than saying thank you, she shrugs, says, “I already have this,” and sets it aside before moving on to the next present. Of course you’d like to think your daughter would never react that way—or would she?
Being grateful goes way beyond polite manners—a 2008 study published in the Journal of School Psychology showed school-age children who count their blessings are happier in school, more optimistic, and feel more satisfied with their lives in general. “So often, kids focus on the concrete—what don’t have, and what they want,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald. “But always wanting more, different, or better creates anxiety and stress. Recognizing what we do have, instead of focusing on what we don’t, brings peace and calm.”
Naturally, gratitude is a value we all hope to see in our children, but because feeling grateful doesn’t have cut-and-dry instructions—like, say, brushing your teeth—it can seem a bit trickier to teach. The great news? When you express gratitude for the awesome people and things in your life, you’re helping your daughter to value similar aspects of hers. “It’s not just about tangibles,” says Dr. Bastiani Archibald. “It’s those more meaningful gifts like a loving family, good friends, food on the table, and a safe place to play that matter. Many girls aren’t aware that others don’t have those things.”
Follow these tips to spark the conversation:
- Start the day right. A breakfast conversation about what you are both looking forward to will get the day off to a positive, optimistic start.
- During a quiet moment or blessing before dinner, encourage each person to share something they were grateful for that day.
- Laying down for a minute together at bedtime and talking quietly isn’t just a special bonding moment for you and your daughter, it can also be a powerful learning moment where she can share what she’s been grateful for, and what she’s not feeling so thankful about. Your daughter needs to know that both feelings are important and valid.
- When you have mother-daughter time together—whether it’s as simple as running errands or as epic as a girls’ day out—make sure to tell her how grateful you are that you get to be with her, and prompt her to share how she’s feeling.
At a loss for words? Try these easy ice breakers:
- “I can’t believe how lucky we are to have such beautiful weather! What makes you happy about today?”
- “My friend took time from her busy schedule to call me this morning. Her thoughtfulness totally made my day. What were you thankful for today?
- “What was the happiest moment of your day? Was there anybody you were grateful to see, or something you really enjoyed doing? And what wasn’t so good? Is there anything upsetting you or that is making you feel disappointed?”
- “I’m always grateful to see such a delicious meal on the table—and tonight, it’s making me think about people in our town who might not have enough to eat. Can you help me think of ways we might be able to help them?”
- “It’s such a treat to get to have lunch just with you—there’s so much to be thankful for. I’d love to hear about all the amazing things going on in your world, too!”
Dr. Bastiani Archibald notes being grateful is a feeling and awareness that develops throughout childhood and adolescence—so don’t be discouraged if your daughter takes some time to jump on the thankfulness train. But know that by setting an example of gratitude you’ll be helping her see—and truly appreciate—all the wonder in her world.