Tips on Teaching Kids Gratitude

We all want our children to be grateful for the things they have, but gratitude isn’t exactly tangible. The Thanksgiving season is centered around gratitude and being thankful, but it’s also easy to forget during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

Plus, It seems especially tough to teach young kids gratitude when we can barely get them to share their blocks and are still learning to say please and thank you.

So, how do you teach your child about gratitude? Keep it simple and consistent, and be the role model. The best way is by showing them how to be grateful!

If you need gratitude inspiration, we have five fantastic ideas to teach kids gratitude that you can employ year-round!

1. Create a Family Gratitude Journal

Purchase a blank notebook and decorate it with your kids. Tell them this notebook is only for things that make us happy or feel good. Regularly have your children draw a picture or write what makes them happy. This type of activity plants the seeds of gratitude. For children who can write, encourage them to write words or even sentences with their pictures. If your child is too young to write, write what they are grateful for beneath their picture. Parents should add things they’re grateful for to the journal, too! 

Alternatively, you can rotate whose day it is throughout the family. At the end of the week, everyone can select their favorite thing to share with the family. It’s also a great memory book to look back on during the winter holidays and to ring in the New Year!

2. Create Your Thank-You Note Cards

Work together to create thank you cards that you can quickly jot in notes when your child receives a gift. Even if your child can’t write a note, they can dictate a note to you or create the art on the front of the card. Grandma or their aunts and uncles will love the personalized note as much, if not more, than a generic thank you note. Plain, oversized index cards are inexpensive material kids can decorate on one side and write the thank you on the flip side. 

The goal is to teach them to say thank you for a gift as opposed to writing a lengthy letter! Kids today are tech-savvy – so even teaching them how to send a thank you text with a fun GIF or to compose an email teaches them the importance of gratitude.

3. Model Thankfulness

Where do your kids, especially young kids, take their cues from? YOU! Be sure to model thankfulness in your everyday interactions. Saying thank you to your child when they hand you something or saying please to a server at a restaurant when making a request teaches them the proper way to express gratitude and good manners to others.

A gentle reminder never hurts, but forcing kids to say thank you doesn’t teach them why they should say thank you and might even make them resent having to say it. As a result, they may push back by clamping their jaw tight! However, showing them teaches them the appropriate time and place to be appreciative. The more you model thankfulness and gratitude, the more likely your kids will pick it up eventually!

If your kiddo isn’t ready to verbally or is too shy to say thank you, say it for them! This shows them when and where, and eventually, they’ll start to do it, too!

4. Volunteer

Your kids are never too young to start volunteering! Of course, they may be too young to volunteer formally through an established organization. But you can also volunteer informally by helping a neighbor, helping with a community garden, or picking up and delivering canned goods to a local shelter.

You can also have your child choose old toys, books, and clothing they no longer use or want to donate to children in need. Or have them select toys from the store to donate to local women’s shelters or Toys for Tot donation bin during the holidays. 

My son loves to walk around our local park, pick up plastic bottles people leave lying around, and put them into recycling! Any little task that teaches them about kindness and gratitude will help.

5. Bedtime Chats

One of the quietest times of the day and the best times to talk is before bed. As you’re tucking your kiddos in, ask them about their day and what went well. One tip you may have heard before is to name the three best things that happened to them that day. For some kids, this step may be challenging. So instead, have them name one thing that went well or list three things they’re grateful for, like their pet, favorite stuffed turtle, and favorite sneakers!

When teaching kids about gratitude, the main idea is that recognizing thankfulness and reflecting on it is what reinforces the idea. The more you can show your children how to be thankful and appreciative of what they have, the more they will make it part of their daily lives.

Updated November 7, 2023, by L. ELizabeth Forry

written by

L. Elizabeth Forry 

L. Elizabeth Forry is an Early Childhood Educator with fifteen years of classroom teaching experience. She earned a Master of Science in Early Childhood Education from The University of North Dakota and has a Bachelor of Arts in English and one in Music from Lebanon Valley College. She has taught children in Japan, Washington D.C., Chicago, and suburban Maryland. She is trained as a reading therapist, has a TEFL certification, and has done extensive work with children regarding mental health, social-emotional development, gender development. She has written curriculum for children and educators and has led training sessions for parents and educators on various topics on early childhood development. She is the mother of two boys and resides outside of Annapolis, Maryland.

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