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Have Your Say: How do we create a generation of grateful kids? Add to ...

Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children, Me to We and We Day. Find out more at we.org. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.

Everywhere we go, from Ecuador to India, we pick up snippets of the local language. Invariably, one of the very first phrases we are taught is how to say “thank you.”

There isn’t a dialect we know of without at least one common expression of gratitude. Appreciation is a fundamental building block of human society. And as we see it, gratitude is a critical ingredient in compassion. The greater our appreciation for our own good fortune, the greater our desire to share it with others.

And now, there’s more science showing gratitude is good for our health, too.

Last year, researchers at the San Diego School of Medicine took 40 patients with heart problems, and asked half of them to keep a journal to record aspects of their life – from loved ones to good food – that they were grateful for each day. After just a few months, those who kept gratitude journals showed significant improvement in their heart health over those who didn’t document their thankfulness.

Another study of students at the Universities of Kentucky and Utah found those who felt more grateful, and were generally optimistic in their outlook, had stronger immune systems.

This makes us wonder, where does gratitude come from – nature or nurture?

Scientists at the University of North Carolina think it’s in our DNA. An experiment they conducted in 2013 revealed that people who possess a particular gene, which affects the production of the neurochemical oxytocin, are more prone to expressing their gratitude. Yet many other studies suggest we can actively encourage and grow a sense of gratitude in ourselves and others – like our children – through activities, such as keeping a gratitude journal.

This week’s question: How can we raise kids who have a strong sense of gratitude?

THE EXPERTS

Dr. Carla Fry, psychologist and co-author of Gratitude & Kindness: A Modern Parents Guide to Raising Children in an Era of Entitlement (Real Parenting Lab, 2015)

“Invite your child to take a gratitude walk with you and focus on experiencing gratitude as you go. Kick it off by sharing that you’re grateful for having the walk with your child.

Dr. Christine Carter, fellow, UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents (Ballantine Books, 2011)

“On birthdays, my kids make giant paper place cards for each guest, and as people arrive and mingle, each guest takes some time to sit down at the table and write on the inside of their place card something that they love, or appreciate, about the person whose birthday it is.”

Denise Daniels, child development expert and creator of a line of pre-school toys and books, The Moodsters

“Every time your child shows their gratitude, he or she drops a marble in a jar. When the jar is full, you celebrate by doing something of their choice, such as going out for an ice cream, a new book, or watching a movie together.”

Have your say in the comments.

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Follow on Twitter: @craigkielburger

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