‘Tis the Season to Model Gratitude for Your Teen

Holiday displays are up, Black Friday pre-sales have begun, and I’ve already heard my first Christmas carol on the radio. ‘Tis the season! But before we jump into the chaos, I’d like to take a moment to remember Thanksgiving—the holiday that originated out of the spirit of gratitude. Let’s talk about gratitude and what it can mean to our nearly adult children.


The Science of Gratitude
A 2012 study from the American Psychological Association (APA) revealed that teens who scored higher on gratitude were happier and more optimistic. They were also less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and had lower levels of depression and stress. With all of the pressures our students are under as they transition from high school college, why wouldn’t we want to help them increase happiness and reduce stress?

But how? It’s not always easy. It isn’t until later in life that most people discover the benefits of gratitude. The concept can be difficult for adults to embrace, and even harder for teens who naturally believe the world revolves around them. Start with baby steps. Here are 3 ways you can cultivate gratitude and demonstrate emotionally healthy behaviors for your children:

1. Pause for Perspective
Make gratitude your default by choosing to acknowledge things you are thankful for. A first simple step is simply to pause in your everyday life and to ask yourself questions like:

  • What is one thing that I can be grateful for today? Don’t just focus on big things. Small things matter, too. A great cup of coffee? A text from your college student? Nothing is too small for gratitude.
  • What are 3 things I can be grateful for about myself? Making a habit of appreciating your own positive character qualities improves self-esteem and self-confidence.
  • Who are 3 people that I can be grateful to have in my life today and why?

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” —Marcel Proust

2. Be Consistent
How do you get the gratitude habit to stick and not become one of those things you forget about after a few days? Consistency is key! Start a gratitude journal and commit a few minutes each morning or evening to write down the answers to some of the above questions.

A simple habit of taking a few minutes every day to focus on the positive things in your life can help to:

  • Lift your mood
  • Boost motivation
  • Prioritize where you spend your time and energy
  • Bring peace to an otherwise chaotic day
  • Find joy—even during more challenging times

3. Express Yourself
Don’t just keep gratitude on the inside. Share it with others—especially your kids! Say “thank you.” Praise their character qualities. Tell them how you appreciate their contributions to your family and to others. For example, “I’ve always admired your enthusiasm for helping others. I know this will open doors for you and help you meet other kind-hearted people.”

Text, call or write a heartfelt note to your child today. Simple words can have tremendous impact! If you’re not sure where to start, there’s an entire section in Out to Sea: A Parents’ Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage dedicated to healthy, positive communication between parents and students.

This holiday season, instill gratitude by letting your kids see you default to the positive and pause for perspective. Let them hear you express thankfulness in the little (and big) things. Show them the role gratitude plays in living a happier, healthier life.

Happy Thanksgiving,

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