With Thanksgiving just around the corner and November being designated at National Gratitude Month, many of us are counting our blessings and thinking about what we are grateful for in our lives. When it comes to teens, however, teaching gratitude can sometimes seem like a frustrating endeavor. How many kids routinely avoid complaining and instead express their thankfulness for what they have? How many are truly grateful for their parents and don’t take them for granted? The truth is, youth often need to be taught gratitude and encouraged to be grateful. This month, make it a point to encourage gratitude in your teens and get them expressing their thankfulness by trying some of the following activities.
1. Model Gratitude in Your Daily Life
One way to encourage gratitude in young people is to model gratitude yourself. Being grateful goes beyond simply saying “thank you,” though that is an important habit to teach children. Point out actions by others that you are grateful for. For example, rather than simply saying, “thanks,” to the cashier at the grocery store, try saying, “thank you so much for pointing out that the muffins were buy-one-get-one so I could grab another package!”
Be sure to thank youth, too. Thank them for helping to carry in the groceries: “Thank you for carrying in those bags so I don’t have to make another trip outside!” And regularly express your gratitude for what you have. For example, rather than looking at the chicken you have defrosting and saying you’d rather have pizza than cook dinner, talk about how glad you are to have something ready to cook. Set a good example for your teens by showing them that gratitude is your default attitude.
2. Encourage Young People to Be Generous
One of the best ways to be more grateful is to help others who are not as fortunate. This can be done on a very small scale just about every day; for example, you can ask teens to share things with one another. When you realize that you have too many things, ask them to choose a few things that they don’t use anymore so that together you can donate them to a charity for others. Don’t stifle a young person’s generous spirit if you can help it. While you don’t want them giving away an expensive item to a friend or sibling, if they want to give a reasonable item, just let them, provided they understand that they won’t be asking for it back.
Generosity with time is also important. Let youth see you volunteering in the community and include them where you can. Although many charities and organizations do have age restrictions, you might be able to find an appropriate opportunity that allows you to involve teens. For example, while you often can’t drop off a teen at an animal shelter to volunteer, they might be able to join you in watering, walking, and cleaning up after the dogs or in cuddling the cats and changing their litter.
3. Teach Adolescents to Thank People for Gifts
When someone gives a young person a gift, they should, of course, say thank you. Even if they don’t like the present. With adolescents who have not acquired this skill, you can role-play: Practice having your child open a gift containing socks or some other unexciting gift and have them smile and say thank you for the act of generosity despite their feelings about the gift.
Along the same lines, another way to encourage gratitude in teens is to suggest that they write thank you notes. In an age of rapid communication, it is important to learn to give time, thought, and energy to the expression of gratitude.
4. Ask Teens to Keep a Gratitude Journal
You can also encourage gratitude in youth (and ourselves!) by keeping a gratitude journal. Writing down something every day that we’re grateful for. Sometimes it can be difficult to think of something specific, so you might consider using some prompts to get your gears spinning. Here are a few to get you started:
- What is something that you are grateful for in your bedroom (or the kitchen, the living room, etc.)?
- What is something someone outside of the family did for you that you are thankful for?
- Who are some people that we don’t know who worked so we could have food to eat?
- What was your favorite food that you ate today?
- Write down three things about your brother or sister that you are thankful for.
Above all, don’t get frustrated when trying to encourage gratitude. Teenagers are, by their very natures, egocentric. It can be difficult for them to feel true gratitude if they don’t practice it regularly. You can help inspire an attitude of gratitude by following the tips above and by giving them guidance and opportunities to practice.