Your child receives a present from their grandmother. As they reach for it, you lean over and whisper in their ear, “don’t forget to say thank you”.
A study conducted by the Raising Grateful Children project at UNC Chapel Hill concluded that gratitude has four separate parts: noticing, thinking, feeling, and doing. Coaxing a thank you for the grandmother would fall into the doing category, but what about the other three? How can you help your two-year-old begin to cultivate all four elements of gratitude?
Here are some ways to start teaching gratitude to your toddler:
Say “thank you” in front of your child (a lot)
Children are sensitive to adult behaviour, even when it isn’t obvious. Thank the postal workers for your mail, the cashier at the grocery store, and the bus driver on your local bus.
Make gratitude a mealtime tradition
Though your two-year-old can’t yet express their gratitude the way adults can, now can still be a good time to create a mealtime ritual around thankfulness. For example, everyone at the table can share one thing they are grateful for. Your two-year-old’s gratitude will likely be something simple and close to them, like a family member, a pet, or the meal in front of them.
Create a Thankful Jar
Get a large jar or other container and decorate it with your child (if you’re feeling brave, you can even let them use glue and glitter 🙃). Put the jar somewhere everyone in the family can reach with some paper and pencils nearby. Help your child by asking them to share what they are grateful for, and either writing it down for them or letting them make their own marks on paper. Then invite them to put the paper in the jar. This is a great project for older siblings, too ❤️
Engage in child-friendly projects to help others
Have your child help you bake muffins and then bring them to your neighbours. Play a game to see who can pick up the most rubbish on your street. Take your two-year-old to an animal shelter and sit with the cats. There are so many ways to give, and the more your child experiences gratitude from others, the more they will want to do to keep earning it.
Send gratitude cards
Make cards for people you appreciate, and invite your two-year-old to join you. The focus here is on the practice, not the product, so scribbles on a piece of paper are perfect. Finish by going to the post office or mailbox together to send the cards.
Read stories about gratitude to your two-year-old
Books are the perfect way to gently expose your child to the many ways and reasons to express gratitude. Here are a few of our favourites:
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña & Christian Robinson, is about a boy who sees what he has to be grateful for during the course of a bus ride with his grandmother.
My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith & Julie Flett, is a board book that invites readers to reflect on what brings them joy.
The Thank You Book by Mary Lyn Ray & Stephanie Graegin, explores all of the ways to be grateful for both the small and big things in life.
Thank You Omu by Oge More, tells the story of a child who watches her grandmother gradually share portions of the stew she has made with the whole neighbourhood.
What is Given From the Heart by Patricia C. McKissack & April Harrison, is about a boy who learns about compassion when a family loses everything they own in a fire and the church collects things from the neighbourhood for their “love box.”
Thanks a Million by Nikki Grimes & Cozbi A. Cabrera, is a book of poetry naming small kindnesses and simple pleasures through the eyes of different children and the people who love them.
Thanku: Poems of Gratitude edited by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Marlena Myles, is an anthology of the small and large ways to express gratitude every day, written by a diverse group of writers.
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