Fostering an Attitude of Gratitude

By FCPS & Fairfax County Government
Healthy Minds
November 21, 2019

The field of positive psychology has been gaining momentum for the past decade. It places a focus on promoting strengths and virtues in individuals instead of solely on treating deficits and disorders. Through the study of happy, healthy individuals, several qualities have been found that help people lead a more positive and fulfilling life. One of the top qualities is gratitude. Experiencing and expressing gratitude is associated with many potential benefits including:

  • Experiencing more positive emotions such as joy, love, and happiness.
  • Increased helpfulness and empathy.
  • Experiencing fewer negative emotions such as bitterness, envy, and resentment.
  • Less depression and anxiety.
  • Increased feelings of connectedness and improved relationships.
  • Improved goal attainment and academic achievement.
  • Better physical health.
  • Greater satisfaction in life.

Here are some ideas for how parents or guardians can foster an attitude of gratitude in their children:

  • Model practicing gratitude. Ensure that your children see you acting gratefully. Openly express thanks to family members, friends, neighbors, and strangers. Children watch the actions of significant adults in their lives and tend to incorporate those actions into their own ways of functioning.
  • Teach an attitude of gratitude. Talk to your children about the importance of gratitude. They should not simply know to say thank you, but also "why" they should say thank you. Gratitude is an acquired virtue and parents need to offer consistent support to help children understand and develop it.
  • Highlight the positives. Help your children see the many positive aspects of their lives, especially in comparison to others who may be less fortunate. Help them be mindful of people, events, activities, and things they should be grateful for. Tell your children what you are thankful for in your life. Consider having your family participate in volunteer opportunities to help others in need.
  • Encourage gratitude thinking. Help your children identify all those individuals who help them along the way. Have your children say “thank you” in person or by writing a note to someone such as a teacher, counselor, or coach who has made a particular difference. Also, encourage children to write a thank you note to relatives or friends after receiving gifts and to include why they are thankful for those gifts. 
  • Share gratitude daily. Make time in the morning or at dinner for the family to share at least one thing for which each person is grateful. This can be balanced with one thing that was difficult that day, but starting with gratefulness reinforces positive connections and resources. Other ideas include using a journal before bedtime to write down three things you are thankful for each day or even having a gratitude box in your house where family members can place written messages of gratitude (these can be nice to review at another time on a particularly difficult day).
  • Recognize grateful behavior. Specifically identify and recognize grateful behavior or language in your children. This helps to reinforce its continued use. For example, “That was thoughtful of you to thank your friend for helping you complete your homework. Way to go. I am sure it made him feel good and made your friendship stronger.”
  • Use visual reminders. Put notes on the refrigerator, bedroom door, or in the lunchbox to share something for which you are grateful or to offer a reminder to your children to be thankful for good health, family, friends, and more.

Healthy Minds is for parents, educators, and community-based providers who are interested in supporting student mental health and wellness. It represents a collaboration between FCPS’ Office of Intervention and Prevention Services and the Fairfax County Government. SUBSCRIBE to Healthy Minds and receive a monthly digest of our most recent articles.