A+ Advice for Parents

Encouraging Gratitude Helps Foster Sense of Satisfaction

Q: My daughter's class does a lot of writing. A recent assignment had kids keeping a "gratitude journal" of things they're thankful for. I found it oddly personal. The teacher explained that studies show that expressing gratitude helps kids become better students. Really?

A: A growing body of evidence suggests that having a "gratitude attitude" boosts learning. Gratitude is one of the nonacademic "soft skills" that researchers say can predict life satisfaction and high achievement.

Journalist Paul Tough put a spotlight on gratitude's effect on learning in his book "How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character" (Mariner, 2013). The other traits Tough describes are self-control, zest, social intelligence, optimism, grit and curiosity.

Educators are taking opportunities to weave gratitude into lessons. Gratitude Works, a program from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), is based on studies showing that fostering gratitude can increase students' pro-social behavior, optimism, resilience and satisfaction with school.

Gratitude starts at home, says Andrea Reiser, co-author with her husband, David, of "Letters From Home: A Wake-Up Call for Success and Wealth" (Wiley, 2010). She offers these tips to foster it:

-- Make gratitude a family event. Take a moment each day when everyone notes something they are grateful for. "Whether it's a favorite toy or a birthday card from Nana," Reiser explains, "this daily tradition helps develop a positive frame of mind."

-- Model gratitude: "Set a good example by saying 'thank you' sincerely and often," notes Reiser. When kids see us expressing thanks -- to the cashier at the grocery store or the safety patrol officer at school -- they are learning how to express their own appreciation.

-- Don't shower kids with too much "stuff." Buying kids whatever they want, whenever they want, "dilutes the gratitude impulse and it can mean that they don't learn to value or respect their possessions," says Reiser.

-- Have kids pitch in when they want something. When kids save up their allowance or earnings, they have a stake in the purchase and better understand its value. It also teaches restraint and encourages kids to appreciate what they have.

-- Keep thank-you notes ready to send. There are opportunities throughout the year for kids to recognize and thank those who have done something special for them, says Reiser. It's important that they compose the notes themselves.

-- Shift the focus from receiving to giving. "When kids give their time and energy to help others, they're less likely to take things like health, home and family for granted," notes Reiser. Many families make service to others a holiday tradition.

California youth counselor Marissa Gehley suggests incorporating gratitude into family routines: "Thank your daughter for picking up her room or walking the dog."

She says it's helpful for children to hear "thankful words" often, such as, "We're fortunate to live in this cozy home," or "We are so grateful that Uncle Trevor got here safely," or "I really appreciate your letting me know."

To encourage young readers to be thankful for "the beauty that exists in each day," children's author and illustrator Tomie dePaola just published "Look and Be Grateful" (Holiday House, 2015). Find a spot for it at the Thanksgiving table.

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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