Expressing and learning gratitude is something we all struggle with from time to time, and when it comes to figuring out how to teach kids gratitude, it can be difficult to approach the concept and integrate the practice.
The Raising Grateful Children Project at UNC Chapel Hill has established the following four ways we tend to think about gratitude that give parents and teachers a starting line for conversations about gratitude with children:
- What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful
- How we THINK about why we have been given those things
- How we FEEL about the things we have been given
- What we DO to express appreciation in turn
You can use these statements to start introducing the concept of gratitude to your children and spark grateful behaviors and thoughts. Whether your child is struggling to show appreciation for everything they have or you’re hoping to teach them to appreciate even the small, mundane things in life, here are some helpful tips on how to teach kids gratitude.
What Is The Meaning of Gratitude?
Merriam-Webster defines gratitude as the “state of thankfulness.” However, gratitude can be felt for a number of different reasons and shown in many different ways. We can be just as thankful and grateful for our family as we are our jobs, health, friends, new shoes, and the chance to play outside. Giving gifts, thank you cards, or simply saying thank you are very easy ways to acknowledge the things we receive and have. But gratitude goes deeper and includes the ability to view things from different perspectives (i.e. how would I feel if I didn’t have x?).
Why Is It Important to Teach Kids Gratitude?
Gratitude, or at least showing gratitude, is seen as a normal and polite part of our society. Others do not necessarily owe us anything, and are not usually obligated to be kind to us or give us the things we want or need. That’s why, especially for kids, it’s important to let them know that showing and practicing gratitude, while also polite, is a great way let others know that their actions mean something. Showing gratitude can even inspire within ourselves a spirit of giving and a sense of belonging, and some studies have shown a link between gratitude and happiness (source).
How to Teach Kids Gratitude: 7 Tips & Ideas
1. Be a good role model
If you want to know how to teach kids gratitude, a good starting point is to model grateful behaviors yourself. In other words: practice what you preach. In every situation, as the adult and role model for the child, it is your responsibility to demonstrate proper acknowledgements, like saying “thank you”, and show how to handle disappointing situations in which you don’t get what you want. In doing so, kids will see that they should be grateful for gifts, learning opportunities, and yes, even the harder things in life.
2. Encourage them to say thank you
This seems like the simplest solution but encouraging your child to say “thank you” is the most natural way to instill gratitude. Whenever they receive anything, from you or someone else, or whenever they like something in their life, simply remind them to say “thank you”, and before you know it, it will become habit.
3. Keep a gratitude journal
Gratitude journals like this one from Modern Kid Press are a great way to teach gratitude to older kids who can read and write. With activity pages, sections for free-writing, and insightful questions, structured gratitude journals give your child the chance to reflect on all that they have and should be grateful for.
4. Random acts of kindness
It can be hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and realize how different your situation could be. By practicing simple acts of kindness on the daily, you are giving your child the chance to consider the lives and wellbeing of others and note all they should be thankful for in their own lives. Additionally, it will give your child a chance to give back to others, show appreciation for others, and experience the joy of interacting positively with friends and strangers.
Here are some are appropriate random acts of kindness for kids:
- Leave a kind note on a friend’s desk
- Make a card for your teacher/parent/loved one
- Hold the door open for someone
- Donate clothing/toys
- Let someone go in front of you in line
- Make and sell treats to raise money for a charity
- Help someone carry their things
- Volunteer to clean up a park
- Go make a new friend!
5. Start conversations
At home, in a comfortable, safe environment, open up the floor for gratitude conversations. For example: each night at the dinner table, take the opportunity of being gathered together to allow each person to state something they are thankful for from their day. It can be small or large, but everyone is encouraged to find some positives and gratitude, even if their day was hard.
You can also talk about the deeper meaning of being thankful, what it means to appreciate what one has and how to find the positives in tough situations. Even if you had a bad day, coming home to a warm house, sleeping in a warm bed, having ice cream for dessert, or just knowing that your family is there are all things to be grateful for.
6. Make a gratitude tree
You can get the whole family involved in creating and adding to an adorable and decorative gratitude tree. Place the tree in a central area and encourage your kids to add a leaf every time they feel lucky to have something or someone in their life. If you want to know how to teach kids gratitude, this is a great visual way to remind them of all of the good things in the lives each day.
7. Read About Gratitude Together
My last tip for those who are trying to figure out how to teach kids gratitude is to sit with your children and read books centered around feeling thankful and appreciative. Here are some of our favorites:
- The Thank You Book (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems
- The Thank You Letter by Jane Cabrera
- Bear Says Thanks (The Bear Books) by Karma Wilson
- Gratitude is My Superpower: A children’s book about Giving Thanks and Practicing Positivity by Alicia Ortego
- When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree by Jamie L.B. Deenihan
If you want to know how to teach kids gratitude, I hope the tips, ideas, and book recommendations in this post proved useful to you!