This is a great week to think about how to instill gratitude in your child. Gratitude is key if you want your child to live a life of contentment that’s focused more on others than himself. It might be hard to imagine your 13-year-old who complains about every little thing actually living a life of gratitude and service, but it’s not impossible.

Trust me, no matter how stubborn or self-centered your child is right now, she can learn to be grateful.

This week on my Parenting Great Kids podcast, I talk about the importance of teaching gratitude and service to your children, and specifically about my recent trip to Bolivia with one of my favorite organizations, Food For The Hungry.

When it comes to instilling a life-long sense of gratitude in your child, keep the following in mind.

1. Gratitude doesn’t come naturally to our kids.

As a parent, you’ve probably noticed this. Gratitude is not a child’s natural tendency. But this isn’t your child’s fault; it’s simply how children develop. We are wired to be egocentric, especially when we’re young. To children, it feels like the world revolves around them. Their needs are what they think of, not others’, so they don’t think to be grateful for what they have.

This is important to know about your child because it means you’re going to have to make an intentional effort to teach your kids to be grateful. It’s not going to just happen. Parents who want to teach gratitude TO their kids must first model gratitude FOR their kids.

Behind every grateful child is a grateful parent who showed them what gratitude looks like.

Discontent, ungrateful parents often raise discontent, ungrateful children. Behind every grateful child is a grateful parent who showed them what gratitude looked like and why it was important.

2. Experience speaks louder than words.

Instilling gratitude is done less by words than actions and experience. We can talk about different circumstances like hunger and need, but unless kids experience and are immersed in these realities, they often just don’t get it.

Expose your children to those who lack food or are sick or homeless. They’ve heard about all of these things, but when they actually walk among children who have no food or someone who doesn’t have a bed to sleep on at night, they will experience life on a different level. Once they begin to see how much they have in contrast to how much this other person doesn’t have, the opportunity is there to talk about gratitude and how we should respond.

Gratitude takes shape when we experience and understand that there are other people who are in need. Your job, parents, is to expose your kids to that need in a way that will introduce empathy and instill gratitude in your child.

3. Consistency is key.

single experience will eventually wear off, but if you consistently give your child opportunities to serve others who are less fortunate than he is, gratitude will become a part of his character. The best way to do this is to involve your kids in an ongoing service project. Tutoring, soup kitchens, building a Habitat for Humanity house, grocery shopping for an elderly neighbor, visiting kids in the hospital—there is always work to be done for other people in positions of need.

It’s not only kids who need to be taught gratitude, we often need it too.

Find out what your child enjoys the most and make it a weekly or monthly habit for your family.

Something happens to us as we teach our kids to be more grateful, we begin to be more grateful. It’s not only kids who need to be taught gratitude, we often need it too. Use this season to teach an invaluable lesson to your children, and yourself.

By Meg Meeker, MD

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