Gratitude is good for you — and for your kids.

Psychologist Martin Seligman, who has conducted studies on benefits of expressing thanks, writes, “Gratitude can make your life happier and more satisfying. When we feel gratitude, we benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event in our life. Also, when we express our gratitude to others, we strengthen our relationship with them.”

In fact, according to research, gratitude helps people “feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

For preschoolers, gratitude means learning how and when to say “thank you” to others. Parents can help them identify people, places, rituals, objects and events that make them feel thankful — such as playing with favorite toy, swinging at the playground, or reading with Grandma. Draw attention to gratitude by sharing good memories together, the types of “remember when” moments that bring a smile to everyone’s face.

As children get older, gratitude can expand to include recognizing how people contribute to the community in large and small ways. Help them look for “helpers” in their school and in their community — including those whose quiet, hard work might be overlooked — and find ways to express gratitude, from verbal “thank you’s” to writing cards expressing gratitude. Honoring unsung heroes can inspire children to find their own ways to help those around them.

My husband and I have two small children. We remind them them to say “thank you” when people help them, and we try to model gratitude ourselves. But the research surrounding this topic inspired us to look for a more formal way to bring gratitude to the forefront of our family life. So we started a new ritual: The Thankful Jar.

The materials are bare-bones: a jar and a bag of glass beads I picked up at a craft store. Each night, we take turns sharing something that we are thankful for, asking ourselves, “What made you smile today? What went well? Who helped you?” The kids took to it instantly. Each night at dinnertime, the five-year-old enthusiastically brings the jar and bag to the table and announces who gets to go first.

The two-year-old is often grateful for the items he sees on his dinner plate: (“I thankful for avocado and chicken nuggets and apples.”) His older sister’s expressions have become increasingly complex over time. She talks about people who helped her at school, an activity she enjoyed, and simple moments of pleasure such as dancing with her brother or picking flowers. It’s been a wonderful window into what brings her joy — particularly as she regularly expresses gratitude for snuggling with her family. As for the parents? Well, on days when work has been stressful or car repairs have been costly, this simple exercise has been good for us, too, as we pause remind ourselves of the goodness that fills our lives.

Tips for Teaching Gratitude

Model Gratitude:
Children imitate adult behavior. In your daily interactions, model saying “thank you” to store clerks, teachers, librarians and family members. Encourage your child to follow suit. When you write a thank you note to someone they know, let them add a picture or dictate a few words. As they get older, encourage them to write their own thank you cards or make thank you gifts for people who have touched their lives, such as teachers, coaches or community helpers.

Share “Three Good Things“ Each Day:

As a family, make it a ritual to share three good things that happened that day. This is a perfect way to connect at dinnertime or bedtime. Simply ask children a question such as, “What made you happy today?” “What went well?” Or “What are you thankful for?” And don’t forget to share your own reflections, modeling for your kids a daily attitude of gratitude for the small things in life.

Use Books and Media to Talk about Gratitude:
Children are inspired and motivated by the examples of others — both people they know and characters they read about and watch. Here are a few books and videos that may prompt some good conversation between you and your child:

  • Bear Says Thanks, by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman
  • The Thankful Book, by Todd Parr
  • Good People Everywhere, by Lynea Gillan and Kristina Swarner
  • Daniel Tiger’s “Thank You Grandpere Tiger!/ Neighborhood Thank You Day” (episode 114) which includes this “Thank You Song.”