TIP 4. Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude.
Children need to practice caring for others and being grateful—it’s important for them to express appreciation for the many people who contribute to their lives. Studies show that people who engage in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate, and forgiving—and they’re also more likely to be happy and healthy.
Learning to be grateful and caring is in certain respects like learning to play a sport or an instrument. Daily repetition—whether it’s helping a friend with homework, pitching in around the house, having a classroom job, or routinely reflecting on what we appreciate about others—and increasing challenges make caring and gratitude second nature and develop children’s caregiving capacities. Hold family meetings that give children practice helping to solve family problems such as squabbles between siblings, hassles getting off to school, and making meals more pleasant. Although as parents and caretakers we always need to stand firmly behind key values such as caring and fairness, we can make our home democratic in key respects, asking our children to express their views while they listen to ours. Involving children in making plans to improve family life teaches perspective-taking and problem-solving skills and gives them an authentic responsibility: becoming co-creators of a happy family.
Real responsibilities. Expect children to routinely help, for example, with household chores and siblings, and only praise uncommon acts of kindness. When these kinds of routine actions are simply expected and not rewarded, they’re more likely to become ingrained in everyday actions.
Make caring and justice a focus. Start conversations with children about the caring and uncaring acts they see in their daily lives or on television and about acts of justice and injustice they might witness or hear about in the news, such as a person who stood up for an important cause or an instance of sexism or racism. Ask children how they see these actions and explain why you think these actions are caring or uncaring, just or unjust.
Expressing thanks. Consider making expressing gratitude a daily ritual at dinnertime, bedtime, in the car, or on the subway. Encourage children to express appreciation for family members, teachers, or others who contribute to their lives.