In the Montessori environment, gratitude is a key component of peace education, grace and courtesy exercises, and the concept of cosmic education. Dr. Montessori understood implicitly the value in fostering a grateful nature in children and helping them become compassionate citizens of the planet.
Teaching Gratitude - Helping Develop Peaceful Montessori Citizens
Although adults understand the worth in expressing gratitude, young children find it more difficult. Gratitude involves being sensitive and empathetic to others, and truly appreciating what others do for you. While children can quickly learn to say please and thank you, it takes time and guidance to help them truly learn to be grateful.
Young children, by their very nature, are self-absorbed. In fact, Jean Piaget described children from ages 2–7 as being egocentric, or unable to see a situation from another person's point of view. According to Piaget, young children primarily think and communicate about themselves. They automatically assume that the experiences and thoughts that they have are shared by others. Even in this egocentric phase, however, children can begin to understand gratitude when they are offered repeated opportunities to experience being grateful.
Here are a few ways you can teach children about gratitude:
- Develop the habit of vocalizing good things that happen. Comment as events are happening, such as “I appreciate you helping put the silverware away.” Or talk about events after they occur, on a bigger, family scale like at dinner or bed time.
- Model appreciation of others. After you leave the park, for example, discuss what you observed. “Wasn’t it nice when that teenager helped you cross the monkey bars?” “Did you see that man help catch the dog that ran away? I’ll bet that family is very thankful.”
- Invite children to help with daily tasks. Even very young children can help set the table, fold towels, or help feed the pet. The more they help, the more children understand and appreciate the efforts of others.
- Encourage children to help others in the community. Together, go through the children’s clothing and toys to find gently used items to donate to those in need. Invite children to help deliver the items to the thrift store or donation site.
- Write thank you notes together. Expressing gratitude in writing helps children think about and communicate why they are thankful. Young children may draw a picture and dictate their letter. Older children may enjoy writing their letter on beautiful stationery or they may prefer email.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. Giving in to constant requests for treats can make children feel entitled, not grateful. Be upfront about what you are going to do ahead of time: “Today, we are going to the grocery store to buy a gallon of milk and some bread. We are not buying candy or toys.” Then, make sure you follow through.
- Involve children in selecting gifts for others. During the holidays, ask children to make gift lists, thinking about what other people would like to receive. Invite them to shop for and wrap the presents, and then to give the presents to the recipients.
Teaching children to be grateful and show appreciation takes patience. Gratitude is a quality that needs cultivating over time. But encouraging children to be grateful and modeling its importance is well worth the effort as it lays the foundation for children to develop a positive, optimistic outlook on life.