When your toddler naturally delivers a “thank you” after you hand her a juice box, it’s not only adorable, but a good sign that she’s beginning to grasp the building blocks of both politeness and gratitude. Right now, to her, ‘thank you’ is like a password or code she’s learned to get what she needs and showcase expected behavior. Even though it’s difficult for her to truly understand the weight of the gratitude experience at this stage, that doesn’t mean her expression of thanks for her juice box is insignificant. It proves she’s on the right track to learning the power of gratitude.
Gratitude wasn’t always on the radar of the scientific community. But recently, there’s been a growing curiosity in its benefits and how it affects our minds, bodies, and even our communities. Dr. Alan Delamater, a professor of pediatrics and psychology at the University of Miami, states that people who regularly experience and express gratitude are healthier, happier, more resilient, and less likely to suffer from depression or anxiety.
Delamater explains that children will start to fully experience and understand gratitude around age 7, and more significantly throughout adolescence. But he also stresses that gratitude is a learned social process. Just because a toddler can’t fully grasp the concept of being grateful, this doesn’t mean that parents and caregivers should skim over the topic. Studies show us that gratitude is a skill that needs to be practiced. Just like you help your toddler exercise language skills, motor skills, or good hygiene, gratitude requires time and instruction. The best part is, teaching children about gratitude provides considerable long-term psychological, physical, and interpersonal benefits.
These long-term benefits of gratitude include:
- An ability to feel a deeper sense of positive emotions, such as happiness, love, and joy
- Fewer physical problems, such as aches and pains
- Stronger immune systems
- An ability to feel more optimistic about the future
- Better sleep patterns
- An increase in pro-social behavior that benefits communities (e.g. volunteering)
- A deeper appreciation for relationships with friends and family
- Less stress and anxiety
- Less likelihood of suffering from depression
- Reduced aggression
- More frequent exercise
- An ability to cope and be more resilient in stressful situations
- Increased impulse control and patience
- Increased empathy
Wow! Considering all of these benefits, it’s clear why researchers have become so involved with the study of gratitude and its effects on the human experience. As you can see from the list above, there are plenty of fantastic reasons to teach children to be grateful. This goes far beyond politeness and simple manners. Having a profound appreciation for the world around us is one of the most powerful things we can teach our children.
Ready to start instilling a sense of gratitude in your little one? Head over to our article about how to introduce gratitude to your toddler.