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Key Takeaways:

  • One of the simplest ways to teach children gratitude is by modeling it. Express gratitude out loud and always say thank you.
  • Make gratitude a fun learning experience by getting creative with cards, collages, jars, and other artwork.
  • Increase appreciation by limiting materialism. Focus on experiences—not tangible gifts.

Saying “thank you” is one of the earliest social rules parents impart to their children. However, raising a grateful child can pose a challenge. After all, most children are preoccupied with getting what they want—not necessarily the “thanks” that should come afterward.

Thus, learning how to teach kids to be grateful in a fun and engaging way is essential in shaping a well-rounded child who earns their keep. Here are nine ways to impart gratitude skills to your child.

How to Teach Kids to Be Grateful

Studies show that grateful children are happier [*]. Still, saying “thank you” doesn’t always come naturally. Here are a few tips for teaching children to be grateful.

1. Model gratitude

Children take after their parents’ habits. They learn best by mimicking what their caregivers say and do. Actively practicing outward appreciation may inspire your child to do the same.

For example, when enjoying an afternoon at the playground, you can say, “Wow! What a beautiful day to be outdoors. Isn’t it wonderful that we get to do this?” Another excellent setting for modeling gratitude is the shopping mall. When you’re in line at the checkout counter, tell your child, “Isn’t it great that we found all your favorite ingredients? How lucky we are to share your favorite meals!”

Always say “please” and “thank you” to others to encourage this natural habit in your child.

2. Practice daily gratitude

Practicing gratitude need not come in the form of words. If your child isn’t comfortable expressing their gratitude out loud, you can reinforce daily appreciation through other methods, such as giving someone a thumbs up, shooting a smile, or writing a card.

When walking your child to school or the park, try a gratitude walk. As you take in your surroundings, reflect on the things you can see, hear, touch, and smell that you are grateful for. For instance, your child might say they are grateful for the smell of flowers or the sound of birds chirping.

3. Celebrate small achievements

Encouraging your child to celebrate small wins not only boosts their self-esteem—it inspires them to reflect on the opportunities they have to succeed.

For example, celebrating your child’s high score on a test allows them to reflect on the opportunities they had to learn and study. Eventually, celebrating achievements will make it natural for a child to be grateful for the steps it took to get there.

4. Engage children in acts of kindness

Random acts of kindness encourage generosity and allow children to think about what others have done for them. These random acts of kindness can be simple, like holding the door open for a classmate, offering a friend a hug when they’re sad, writing a favorite teacher a thank-you note, or bringing flowers for a neighbor.

5. Teach perspective-taking

Talking to a child about their experiences can offer perspectives on gratitude they didn’t previously consider. When reflecting on gratitude, use the Notice-Think-Feel-Do model by psychologist Andrea Hussong [*].

This model entails:

  • Noticing the things in our lives we can be grateful for
  • Thinking about why we have been given those things
  • Feeling the emotions involved in what we are grateful for
  • Doing something to express our appreciation

Prompting these discussions encourages children to reflect on their experiences and why they feel a certain way about them.

6. Encourage “thank you” notes

Writing thank-you notes to teachers, school staff, or the person behind the ice cream bar at your child’s favorite sweets shop is a great way to practice gratitude while flexing a child’s creative muscles.

Provide them with the materials to get as creative as possible—colored paper, crayons, markers, glitter, and stickers. Ask them to be specific about what they are grateful for. Perhaps they want to thank a teacher for making their learning experiences enjoyable through games and fun activities.

This activity is perfect for children who might struggle to articulate themselves out loud but want to demonstrate gratitude through words.

7. Limit materialism

Children ask for a lot—it’s natural. Maybe they want the same toy their friend has or saw something online that piques their interest. Keeping your child’s materialistic impulses under control doesn’t just save money—it puts them in a better position to be grateful for things they already have and see them in a new light.

You can limit materialism by prioritizing experiences over things. Instead of providing tangible gifts and surprises at every turn, bring them to the museum, visit a water park, or see animals at the zoo.

8. Create gratitude rituals

Not everyone in the family gives thanks the same way. Some prefer gratitude circles. Others prefer gratitude jars. Whatever the case, make your rituals an everyday part of your routine. Like all skills, learning gratitude takes time and requires repetition.

Some activities to try include contributing to a daily gratitude collage. Encourage your child to write on the collage at least once a day. Be creative with your collage. If you recently saw a movie you loved, place your ticket on the collage. If your child is proud of a school-related achievement, display their test or certificate.

Use our gratitude exercises worksheet to inspire other daily appreciation activities.

9. Encourage positive self-talk

Children can be hard on themselves, and low self-esteem can contribute to a lack of gratitude. When children engage in negative thought patterns, they become cynical and struggle to appreciate their blessings.

By encouraging positive self-talk for high self-esteem, children are more likely to acknowledge their good traits and appreciate the opportunities handed to them.

The Bottom Line

Learning all about gratitude takes time, but there are many simple and fun ways to instill thankfulness in your child. Through these activities, you can raise an appreciative and happy child.

Explore our collections list to find more gratitude activities and exercises to inspire well-rounded traits.

Sources:

  1. Nguyen SP, Gordon CL. “The Relationship Between Gratitude and Happiness in Young Children.” Journal of Happiness Studies, 2019.
  2. “How to practice gratitude: Notice. Think. Feel. Do.” The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2021.