Teaching Gratitude How to Teach Your Child Thankfulness
Gratitude can be a difficult subject to teach to children – many adults also struggle with the concept. Sometimes, saying thank you does not seem enough. Other times, we take for granted simple things in life that we should also be grateful for each day. Teaching gratitude to our children is important at any age, just as it is also crucial for us to remember. The simple act of stepping outdoors, looking around, taking in a deep breath, and realizing what an amazing world we live in is enough to get us centered and back in a state of gratitude for the life we have.
It is easy to teach a child to say “thank you” when he or she receives a present or a compliment. When your child asks for a drink or snack, reminding him or her to say “please and thank you” set the groundwork for a lifetime of thankfulness. However, gratitude goes much deeper than that, and that is what we will explore in this easy-to-use guide for children of every age.
Before we get started, take a moment to think about the last time you were grateful. How did it make you feel? What was the intent behind the action that made you thankful? It is just as important to teach your child to take notice of the reasons behind a thoughtful gesture or gift, as well as their feelings.
Gratitude and the Preschool Years – Instilling Thankfulness At a Young Age
Teaching gratitude to toddlers and preschoolers can set a basis for a lifetime of thankfulness. Mealtime is a great place to start, as you let your child know that the earth provides us with a bountiful selection of yummy foods to eat. At the same time, you can explain the importance of not wasting food.
Playtime is another opportunity to teach gratitude, reminding your child of who gave them their favorite toy, and how to show appreciation by caring for their belongings and putting them away at the end of the day. Of course, that also helps accomplish the lesson of cleaning up – a double teaching moment.
Holidays and birthdays are an excellent time to instill gratitude in young children through the donation of one of their presents (a toy) to less fortunate children. This action allows a child to be thankful for the gifts he or she receives while sharing with those who do not have the same blessings. Teaching children to donate to a charity a small percentage of any money they were gifted is another way to express gratitude.
Writing thank you cards at this age can consist of the child drawing a picture as an expression of gratitude. Getting a child in the habit of “writing” thank you cards at an early age makes it easier for them to continue this practice in later years.
Gratitude Hearts – Creating Thankfulness At Any Age
- Get a pack of multi-colored construction paper and cut out hearts of different sizes. Place the hearts in a “Gratitude Box” and put it on a table where all children can access it.
- Add some crayons (for younger children) and markers (for older children).
- Each day (or week) have your children take out at least one heart to share thankfulness with another person. They can make a heart for a parent, sibling, relative, teacher, or friend.
- As children get older, they can learn to go to the box whenever a thought of gratitude comes to mind.
- Parents – show your gratitude for receiving these hearts by displaying them in a special location. (Don’t forget to teach by example – giving your children hearts to thank them for cleaning up, being nice, a special hug, etc.)
10 Gratitude Expressions at Any Age
- Nightly expressions of what they were grateful for during the day
- Gratitude over the food they receive
- Share appreciation for others – compliments
- Donations of money, gifts, outgrown clothes, and time (volunteering) to those in need – giving helps foster gratitude in what we have
- Gratitude walks – appreciating the world around us
- Creating a gratitude jar – writing down anything that happens or comes to mind
- Showing gratitude through gift-giving to others
- Looking for the positive in every situation – teaching appreciation
- Writing thank you cards – not just for presents – also for actions
- Saying please and thank you – appreciating everyone through good manners
Gratitude and the Elementary School Years – Fostering Ongoing Thankfulness
As children enter elementary school, their ability to process thoughts and actions enables you to take gratitude a step further. At this time, they will begin to learn that some children have more than they have, and others have less. Now is the time to explain how appreciation of what they have is important, and why envy or jealousy is not beneficial as no two families or people are ever alike. It is also important to point out how there is so much more to life than material objects, such as being thankful for the love of one’s family.
Another excellent way to teach gratitude is by having your child shop for a less fortunate child at back-to-school shopping time. While buying his or her school supplies, have your child pick out and fill a backpack for another child to donate to a local charity. Your child learns that he or she has so much to be thankful for when even something as little as a box of crayons can make a difference in someone else’s life.
At this age, it is essential to turn thank you card writing into a fun activity rather than a chore. The longer you put it off, the more of a chore it becomes. Whenever possible, write the thank you cards before using the gift. Have your child write what the gift was and what made it special – even if it was to be a donated gift later on. Example: Thank you for the truck. I like how fast it can go.
Teaching Gratitude In the Home – Thank Your Child for the Following:
- Cleaning up their toys
- Making their bed
- Clearing the table
- Helping with the dishes and emptying the dishwasher
- Dusting and vacuuming – make it a play activity
- Helping with laundry
- Throwing out the trash
- Turning off lights – gratitude for natural resources
Gratitude and the Preteen and Teenage Years – Keeping Thankfulness Going Strong
At this age, fostering acts of kindness is crucial. Young people can now understand and rationalize how their actions can impact the lives of others and make other people feel.
One way to accomplish teaching gratitude at this age is to help young people recognize their strengths and how they can use those strengths to help others. For example, in school, students who are good at math can partner with those who could use extra help. There is gratitude for being able to help others, as well as the thankfulness of being helped.
Volunteering at this age is an excellent way of instilling gratitude for what one has. Young adults can help out in their community in so many ways. Check out the volunteering activity box for suggestions.
Teaching Gratitude At School – Teaching Acts At Every Age
- Appreciation of one another – saying thank you and being kind
- Holding the door for other students
- Cleaning up the room and straightening the chairs and desks
- Gratitude journals – a daily activity at the start or end of the day
- Community projects – creating a classroom activity that will help others
- Reading books about gratitude
- Alphabet gratitude – young children can think of something to be grateful for each day using a different letter of the alphabet
- Encourage acts of kindness – create a gratitude board or box for notes
Teaching Gratitude Through Volunteering – Helping Others
Young Children: taking donated toys or clothes to a shelter or other organization
School-Age Children: looking for animal shelters, food banks, senior centers, or other local organizations that need help, shopping at dollar stores to create bags for the homeless, trash cleanup days
Teenagers: raising money for important causes, volunteering time at animal or nature centers, performing at senior centers, collecting gifts for children in shelters or hospitals, volunteering in soup kitchens or with holiday meals, cleaning up trash in parks or on the beach
As I end this article, I think back on all of the times that a young child has held open a door for me. I make it a point to not only thank the child, but also the parents for the wonderful behavior of the young person. Gratitude for simple actions such as these can go a long way to instilling positive feelings in a child.
Treasured Tradition: Expressing Gratitude and Encouraging Speech Around the Table
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This post originally appeared on our November/December 2019 Magazine