How to easily teach gratitude to teens and tweens with these simple techniques

With increased social media use and the ability to scroll through the brightest and most positive snapshots of people who live all over the world, you may find your teen noticing all the things they do not have.

Their worlds run on instant gratification, so being able to slow down and teach teenager appreciation, helping them see what they do have, can be challenging. For instance, maybe you have a family tradition of relaying what each family member is thankful for on Thanksgiving. And, maybe your attempts are met with groans and eye rolls from your tweens. After all, tween gratitude (and teen gratitude, for that matter) can be hard to come by, given the tendency to be self-absorbed at that age. The good news is, there are some easy things you can do to encourage your kids to be more grateful.

A young girls expresses her gratitude by givng a gift
YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV/shutterstock

Nurturing teenager appreciation

Cultivating tween gratitude goes beyond occasionally asking your tween or teen what she is thankful for. Instilling gratitude into our kids requires engagement and thoughtful activities.

Here are some simple techniques to help teach gratitude to your teens and tweens in a meaningful manner:

Lead by example

Even if it does not seem like it, your teen is paying attention. You may think he never hears anything you say, but he is definitely noticing what you do. The best place to start with your teen is by modeling what gratitude looks like.

This can be accomplished with empathy. Dr. Michele Borba, author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, believes empathy can be explicitly taught to our teens. By demonstrating deep feelings of gratitude and empathy, Borba asserts you can become an “emotional coach” to your teen.

You could begin by challenging yourself to find three things a day that you are grateful for and verbalize them to your teen. For even more impact, you can find three things your teen does or says a day that fills you with gratitude. Vocalize those things to your teen.

Make gratitude a family affair

You may notice more buy-in from your teen if focusing on gratitude becomes a family expectation. Whole family involvement provides your teen to have more opportunities to view other people expressing gratitude and may give more chances for your teen to express their own gratefulness in turn.

Borba also stresses the need for regular, frequent practice of empathy and gratitude in order to help our teens grow into empathetic adults.

Pick an activity or two that makes sense with your family members’ personalities and strengths. Make sure it is something you can commit to and keep in your family schedule. A few ideas to get you started: you could start gratitude journals or have everyone share what they are grateful for at dinner.

family enjoying a run together in the park

Volunteer

One of the most impactful ways to foster gratitude is by volunteering. Volunteering can help you to recognize that not everybody has the same resources as you might. These acts of service may also give you time to witness others displaying their gratitude.

Get input from your tween about how and where they would like to volunteer. Research volunteer opportunities together and choose ones that best fit your tween’s personality, interests, and skills. Commit to doing several volunteer events throughout the year, either as a family or as a parent-child activity.

Perform acts of kindness

If you are unable to volunteer together or are unable to volunteer as often as you would like, brainstorm ways you and your teen can perform smaller acts of kindness. This is a flexible option that can be fit into any schedule.

Like with volunteering, try to come up with a bank of ideas with your teen that fits her interests and strengths. Acts of kindness can include picking up trash around the school or neighborhood, baking treats for a neighbor, or helping a sibling clean their room.

Focus on the bright side

Our lives are not always sunshine and rainbows. Being able to cultivate gratitude during even the darkest times is a valuable skill that takes practice. Although acknowledging unfortunate events is important, so is being able to maintain gratitude during our struggles. Teens especially experience these tough times.

Thomas Lickona, Ph.D. and author of How To Raise Kind Kids, stresses the importance of giving children opportunities to practice being positive and focusing on kindness. “For kids to develop the habit of speaking and acting kindly, they need lots of practice,” Lickona explains. “That includes opportunities to self-correct.”

If you are able, while a setback is occurring, you can pause and verbalize to your tween or teen what positives still exist. For instance, your flight may have been canceled which was inconvenient, but you got to spend more time exploring the city you were in.

Remember to go easy on yourself and your teen: you may not always be able to pause and appreciate the silver lining in times of turmoil while the event is still going on. However, it can be just as impactful to point out your positives long after the situation ends.

For example, you may be able to help your teen realize that not making the varsity volleyball team freed her up to study more and get better grades. Or that while he missed out on socializing while remote learning, he gained valuable organizational skills he’ll use later in life.

Write thank-you notes

Thank you notes are a quick and easy way to practice and show gratitude. Talk with your tween about making a thank you note specific and meaningful. These notes can even help you discuss how to show gratitude even when your teen may not like or appreciate the gift they received.

Your teen can write thank you notes after birthdays and holidays to thank any gift-givers. Instead of (or in addition to) giving gifts to your teen’s teachers, you can have him write personalized notes to each one. Writing thank you notes can even become one of your family’s gratitude traditions.

Teaching our teens to be grateful can be challenging, but the rewards are worth it. Being able to empathize with others and to recognize their own blessings can make your teens more well-rounded and caring individuals. With these simple techniques, you can easily teach your teens and tweens how to grow their gratitude, even in difficult times.

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