The holiday season is up on us, and with the end of the year comes family visits, irregular schedules, lots of snacks, goodies and presents. In these times of celebration and giving, adults might wonder how they can support children with the concepts of gratitude and kindness.
Merriam-Webster defines gratitude as the state of being grateful; thankful. And, kindness as the quality or state of being kind, treating people with kindness and respect.
Preschool children can easily identify basic emotions associated with facial expressions. These emotions include: happy, mad and sad. However, it is not until about 7 years of age when children are able to identify the more complex emotions such as gratitude, pride or jealousy. In addition, children’s understanding of these complex emotions continues to increase through their teenage years.
I am sure at some point in time, you have asked a child to say “I’m sorry” when they hit another child or knocked down a friend’s block tower. If the young child had a good understanding of emotions and the ability to see the perspective of others, they might actually feel they are sorry. If they didn’t, as most young children don’t, they would merely be echoing the words.
You, like me, want to raise kind compassionate children. Children who willingly, and at the right time, offer up a hug or a “sorry” all by themselves. So, how can adults help young children learn about gratitude and kindness?
Three Ways to Support Young Children
Help your child name emotions – Help children to talk about their feelings and give them names. For example, “Your sister started Kindergarten today and you are sad. You miss your sister.” Labeling your child’s emotions helps your children to develop a vocabulary for talking about their feelings, and eventually other people’s feelings too. Books are great choice to help children learn about different emotions. Books are a great choice to help children learn about different emotions. A couple of suggestions are – Glad Monster, Sad Monster, The Way I Feel and The Rainbow Fish. When possible, try to relate the story back to your child. When reading The Rainbow Fish, you might say, “I bet the little blue fish was so sad after the rainbow fish said he wouldn’t share one of his scales. Do you remember how sad you were yesterday when you dropped your ice cream cone on the ground? You started to cry, and I picked you up and held you before we cleaned the ice cream up together. I bet the little blue fish was so sad, he swam away to cry too.”
Give back to others – It is helpful to plan activities throughout the year where you facilitate kindness with others. This could be as simple as cleaning out your child’s toy chest and talking with them about giving the toys to children who might not have any.
Show that you care – be specific – Spread kindness through specific praise. Sometimes we are stuck in a rut where we simply tell children (and adults too) “Good job” rather than something more specific such as “good job hanging your coat up.” If we want children to display this good behavior again, then we need to ensure we are specific when it comes to delivering the message.
Rethink the Gift. Many of you have probably already been out shopping for the perfect gift for your loved ones. Sometimes the best gifts are the ones given from the heart. Some of my favorite gifts (given and received) teach children about gratitude and sharing kindness with others. The best part of most of these gifts are the smiles on everyone’s faces.