Toddlers are self-centered by design, so introducing the concept of gratitude can seem challenging. We also live in an era of consumerism, especially prominent around the winter holidays. After we name all the things we’re grateful for during our Thanksgiving celebrations, we’re immediately bombarded with colorful toy ads and endless shopping sprees for the holidays. The idea of gratitude can become a bit confusing in this environment!
It may feel like the odds are against us, but it is possible to start introducing the idea of gratitude to a toddler. In fact, children as young as 15 months can begin to recognize the building blocks of gratitude. By this age, a little one is well aware that she’s a separate being from her mother, and can see that mom, dad, grandma or grandpa are there to have fun with her, prepare her meals, and read her stories at night. Even though she can’t find the words to express her appreciation, she can still grasp the idea that there are people who care for her, and she really likes that!
Grateful Children Learn from Grateful Caregivers
Like other major life lessons, we must model the behavior we want from our children. Even when they’re very young, they’re paying attention! Parents and caregivers who take the time to show gratitude in their daily lives are more likely to raise children who can recognize and share their own appreciation, too. Of course, on our busy days, we can accidentally speed through the supermarket line without saying “thank you” or grab our coffee from a barista without even making eye contact. Being a gratitude role model isn’t always easy, but it’s an important path for us to take if we want to raise grateful children.
Tips for Teaching Gratitude
Here are some helpful tips for introducing the concept of gratitude to a toddler:
Start introducing gratitude in daily conversations. This doesn’t have to be formal or elaborate. Casually mention how beautiful the day is and how grateful you are that you get to go to the park. “Aren’t we lucky to get to play outside today?” “I love our doggie, don’t you? I’m so thankful he’s here with us.” Weaving the idea of “giving thanks” into your daily routine can go a long way.
Show her you appreciate her. When your toddler gives you a morning hug, tell her “that was a great hug! Thank you so much.” Regardless of the size of the act, showing you appreciate her is powerful. It’s not only a way for both of you to bond, but also a great motivator for good behavior.
Use gratitude words often. Start to incorporate gratitude-related words like “thank you”, “thankful”, “grateful”, “appreciation” more often. During this developmental stage, you want these terms to soak in. The more your child hears gratitude-related vocabulary, the more she’ll start to understand what these words mean, laying the foundation for the true concept of gratitude.
Look for teachable moments. Something as simple as returning a tool to a neighbor can be a teachable moment for a toddler. Bring your child with you and let her see you handing it back. “Thank you, that really helped us out a lot. Can you say thank you to Susan, too?” Witnessing enough of these exchanges can boost her social skills and help construct the ideas of gratitude and generosity.
Have regular appreciation rituals. Many religious traditions incorporate these, but you don’t have to be religious to practice a daily gratitude ritual. Simply talking with your child about what you’re both thankful for, before bed or at the dinner table, is a great way to initiate an understanding of gratitude.
Read her stories that explain gratitude. There are some terrific books for every developmental stage that show children how to express appreciation. Here are a few of our favorites for ages 0-3:
- Llama Llama Gives Thanks by Anna Dewdney
- Otis Gives Thanks by Loren Long
- Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems
- The Thankful Book by Todd Parr
It will take time for your child to fully grasp the concept of gratitude, but the key is to start introducing it early so it can gradually soak into her world. Just remember that the more sincere we are with our own gratitude, the stronger the impact!