Four Tips for Teaching Thankfulness to Kids

A group of wild individuals approaches the President of the United States on the lawn of the White House. Each November, per national tradition, a group of unlucky individuals face an uncertain fate. Will they live to see another day?    

The President smiles and grants a full pardon to the group standing before him. He releases them to live happy lives of walking through fields, enjoying the sunshine, and eating bugs. Oh, I forgot to mention that these are… turkeys. 

Once the President declares the pardon, the turkeys walk away without making eye contact and gobble along until they reach their new home. Kinda cute, right? 

Well, for turkeys, at least. But when it comes to people, a simple “thank you” would be expected. Turkeys can’t learn gratitude or thankfulness, and neither can we unless someone teaches us. As parents, we must instill these values in our children and encourage them to receive everything they’re given with gratitude and thankfulness.

Remember that kids are naturally self-focused in these earlier stages of development. Gratitude doesn’t come naturally; we have to learn it. As parents, we play a vital role in helping our kids develop these traits. The cool thing is that you don’t need a big budget or fancy curriculum to teach gratitude. Here are four tips on how you can help your kids learn gratitude.

Model It

If we’re honest, many of us struggle with this, yet one of the best and easiest ways to teach thankfulness is by modeling it ourselves. Our kids learn so much by simply listening and watching us, so let’s use that to our advantage to equip them to become young people of character capable of making the world a better place. 

Express It

Be open and honest. Take time every day to say “thank you” to your kids, spouse/partner, friends, and others. Include why you are saying thank you. This lets others know how they have helped you and how much it means to you. Talking about it like this is especially helpful in establishing positive behaviors in kids. 

Another way to express it is by having transformative conversations. These questions get us thinking about the topic more deeply and help us connect with each other. 

  1. Ask questions: How do we notice things we should be grateful for? How do these things make us feel? What are some ways we could show thankfulness to someone? In what ways do you like to be thanked? What does gratitude look like to you? Are there different ways to express them? 

Stick with It

Be like glue! Make gratitude stick to you. There are three rules to follow to accomplish this. 

  1. Be Intentional. All of these tips require us to be on top of it. 
  2. Keep it Simple. The more steps and grandiose this process becomes, the harder it will be to maintain. Consistency is key, and simplicity is essential.
  3. Make it a routine. Challenge yourself to express or model these traits every day. Gratitude is a habit worth developing. It may feel odd at first, but the more often you intentionally practice gratitude, the easier it’ll be. 

Just like glue, gratitude is sticky. It’s contagious. Once one person begins, it catches to all those around them. 

Have Fun with It

Engaging in meaningful play is one of the fastest ways to master something new. Consider playing games or crafting things like a gratitude jar or a collage to get your kids engaged in learning about gratitude in addition to conversations. 

While the mascots of Thanksgiving aren’t able to gobble a “thank you,” we can instill gratitude in our kids every day of the year. We can consistently model and express it in fun ways. Even though our mission is to help our kids become thankful, we may discover that we become better people along this journey.