7 Ways to Teach Your Kids About Gratitude

Four major elements to gratitude that children begin to learn individually around three to five years of age

7 Ways to Teach Your Kids About Gratitude

With Thanksgiving now just weeks away, you probably want to use the season to teach your kids about gratitude.

I know I’m thinking about it. Teaching it to our kids now will only help to reinforce it for when they are older.

According to UNC Chapel Hill’s Raising Grateful Children project, there are four major elements to gratitude that children begin to learn individually around three to five years of age:

Noticing things that we feel grateful to have.

Thinking about the why behind gifts. What motivated others to give to us? Is it our birthday? Is it a holiday? Are we just surrounded by nice, loving, and giving people?

Feeling our emotions and understanding those feelings (that the things we’re grateful for make us happy, relieved, satisfied, excited, etc.).

Doing something in return to express our gratitude.

Learning these skills helps children to not only address their feelings, but to understand others’ perspectives. It’s a big step toward socio-emotional intelligence. The earlier you start to teach you kids about gratitude, the better.

Here is what I’m planning over the course of this holiday season (even beyond Thanksgiving) to teach my child to give thanks. Remember, I say this as a parent who will be trying these things, not necessarily as someone who is an expert.

Reinforce saying “thank you”

Teach your kids about gratitude by having them thank their family members for a fun time, like a trip to the zoo. Remind them of the good memories and happy times to reinforce that gratitude.

Trick or Treat was a great way to begin really reinforcing it. I made sure to remind my daughter at every house to say, “Thank you!”

That started us on a whole weekend of “thank you!”

Every time I got my daughter a glass of milk, her favorite treat, or even just got up to get a toy for her, I asked her what she says every time someone does something nice for her.

“Thank you!”

Talk about emotion

It’s one thing to ask your child to say, “thank you,” but they won’t completely understand it if they’re not grasping the feeling in what they’re saying.

So, as I reinforce thank you, I consciously explain why we say it and how it makes us feel.

I ask my daughter the following questions after I reinforce thank you:

– How does it make you feel when someone does something nice for you?

– Do you know why it makes you feel that way?

– Did you know that that feeling is called being thankful?

Essentially, after reinforcing saying, “Thank you!” we have a small conversation. My daughter is thankfully at an age where she seems interested in what I’m asking, even though we have had the conversation repeatedly at this point.

This is a great way to teach your kids about gratitude. The continued dialogue will sink in and she will not only inherently say thank you, but will actually feel it.

Feeling the emotion and being able to put a name to it goes a long way toward living a grateful lifestyle in adulthood as well as in her childhood.

Explain why you give them things

Motivation is a big thing to understand for a little kid, especially from someone else’s perspective. Thinking about why something was given to them can help your children understand why you do what you do.

I’m making it a point to explain why I’m driven to help my daughter when she asks. Even if it’s something as simple as this:

“Do you know why I’m getting you a glass of milk? Because you asked for it and you deserve it! You deserve to be listened to and to have milk when you ask for it. I really love getting things for you and helping you out.”

Hearing me validate her will help her to experience those emotions that lead to gratitude.

Point out what makes you grateful

This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to get wrapped up in life and forget to speak with intentionality and with the goal of teaching a lesson. Mentioning what you’re thankful for will teach your kids about gratitude.

I’ve been trying to bring up what I’m thankful for in even the most mundane of situations. For example:

“The sun is shining! I love it when the sun shines, because it makes me happy and feel like we’re going to have a good day. I’m thankful for the shining sun.”

This food is really yummy and gives me so much energy. It makes me feel big and strong. I’m thankful for this food!”

“Sounds like you’re having a fun time playing with your blocks with Daddy. I love your daddy–he makes us laugh and smile. He’s so much fun. I’m so thankful for Daddy, and I know you are too!”

“I love spending time with you. You’re so funny and sweet, and every day feels like an adventure, especially when we play. I’m so thankful for you.”

Explaining what I feel gratitude for–not just saying that I’m grateful, but also going into detail on emotions–helps lend insight into another person’s perspective. My daughter will hopefully start seeing that she’s not the only person who should feel thankful–Mommy and Daddy do too.

Not to mention, it’s just a nice way to talk and always makes me feel better.

Thankful arts/crafts/games

There is something fun in the idea of arts/crafts that teach valuable lessons. My daughter is at an age where she actually learns through her art.

Here are my ideas for Thanksgiving crafts, particularly ones that reinforce those four tenets of gratitude mentioned above:

Photo Gratitude Project: Take pictures of everything for which they feel thankful. Then put them on a corkboard and write out why we are grateful for those things/people/places.

Mr. Thanksfeathers: I couldn’t think of a better name! Haha. But seriously, I’m planning on buying a large poster board and drawing a turkey, but leaving his tail unfeathered. I will make large tailfeathers out of regular paper and let my daughter color them. Then, before we add each feather, we will think of things that we are thankful for and write them in Sharpie on the tailfeathers. In the end, Mr. Thanksfeathers’ tail will probably be entirely pink, but covered in everything my daughter is grateful for.

The Christmas Gift Game: My daughter has a felt Christmas tree that’s hung on our wall throughout the entirety of the pandemic (because why not?). Lately she’s pretended it’s Christmas morning and wraps random toys in paper to put beneath her tree for us to open. I’m using this as an opportunity to think about giving, receiving, and gratitude. When we play this game, I ask her to think about putting objects under her tree that she thinks we will be grateful to receive. What do we need? What do we love? And of course, this game involves us saying thank you regardless of her choice!

Gratitude Journal: A child as young as mine can’t document their gratitude, but as a parent, I certainly can! By keeping a list of things that I’m grateful for–and writing out when my daughter expresses gratitude–I can show her mindfulness in gratitude.

Service Project

The holidays are the perfect time of year to show kindness in service to others. Whether that means doing something public-facing, like volunteering your time at a soup kitchen, food drive, or clothing drive, or just giving to a charity, children learn by our actions.

You can teach your kids about gratitude by providing charitable service to others.

Written by By Kristin G..

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