How to Teach Gratitude to Your Toddler
As Thanksgiving draws near, many moms and dads begin to think about what they’re most grateful for. No matter what may be going on in life, most people can name at least a few things that they are thankful for; family, friends, their home or job, and the joy that their children bring them are typically top of the list. As your child grows, it’s important for them to develop a healthy sense of gratitude as well. Kids who have the ability to reflect on the good things in their life are not only generally more appreciative and positive towards those around them, they also tend to be more generous and able to think of others before themselves. No matter how old your little one is, you can take steps to begin to teach them gratitude.
While babies and toddlers aren’t developmentally ready to show true gratitude (their little brains just don’t work that way!) they are able to begin to develop the thought patterns and skills they’ll need to feel and show gratitude later on. As soon as little ones begin to understand that they're their own person (usually sometime between their first and second birthday,) they start to understand the dynamics of relationships. They see that their caretaker does things for them that matter, like providing food, comfort, and entertainment. They also begin to take note of the relationships they see around them. They notice that dad hugs mom when she’s feeling sad or that grandma always says thank you. By modeling gratitude in everyday life (and making sure others do as well) you’ll be setting your child up to think about what others do for them (and to appreciate it) later on.
By the time a child is between two and three years old, they have the cognitive ability to show gratitude for the things around them. They might say thank you frequently, get excited to call grandpa and thank him for the letter he sent, or give their teacher an end-of-the-year gift. During this time it’s important for you to teach your child ways to show gratitude. Talk openly with them about the things you appreciate and offer ideas and suggestions for ways they can show appreciation in everyday life such as telling their babysitter how much they love when she reads to them or drawing someone they love a picture.
In their third or fourth year of life, little ones may begin to grasp some of the more abstract aspects of gratitude. They might have a better sense that gratitude isn’t something you have only when someone does something for you or gives you something, but that it’s a feeling they can have about intangible things in their life, like relationships, love, and safety. At this age, you can begin to incorporate gratitude traditions into your family life. Your child will be able to share things they're grateful for at the dinner table or have at least a little understanding around why you might value giving back to the community. No matter how old your baby is, showing your attitude of gratitude is the most important way you can help them develop one of their own.
This Thanksgiving season, think about ways you can show more gratitude in your own life and commit to doing so when your little one watching!