Four Tips for Teaching Children Gratitude

It’s definitely a different world from the one we experienced as children.  We work harder today to create comfortable lives for our families and it’s hard to accept that our children don’t seem to appreciate what they have and what we do.  In so many ways it’s become a world of instant gratification with just about everything available 24-7 for our convenience.  But it’s up to us to teach our children gratitude through the example we set and the discipline we use at home.    

Some parents think that discipline simply involves actions you take when your children misbehave and act out.  It’s not!  As a variation of the word “disciple,” which means to teach or to train, discipline means “the training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement,” and it’s an opportunity we have every time we are with our children.  Parents need to spend more time and effort coaching, guiding and teaching, rather than just policing and controlling.  Here are some ideas that will help teach your children gratitude. 

Help Them to Visualize It.  Regular meetings are an integral part of generating a strong family.  This get-together held a few times a month helps develop the family as a loving team.  One possible activity in a family meeting is to have each person draw pictures of the things for which they are most thankful.  The pictures could then be posted on the wall or on bedroom doors.  One father I know even drew pictures of what he was most thankful for — his children.  This helped his kids understand that he was grateful for more than just material objects.

Show Them What It Looks Like.  I can’t help but return to one of the most important methods for teaching our children: Setting an example.  We have every day with our children to teach them to express gratitude by thanking them ourselves for what they do.  Acknowledging their acts of service or follow-through on agreements and responsibilities sets them up for success and creates habits they will internalize from us.  And for those of us who desire to raise our children with spiritual or religious traditions, thanking God in regular prayer for all that we’ve been given sets an example of humility, an appreciation of a power greater than we are, and for life itself.  At the very least, say "thank you" to others in front of your children.  Say it often and mean it!

Teach Them How To Write It.  A tradition that seems to
be missing from today’s business world, the community and the family, is the thank-you note.  I’m not referring to text messages, e-mails or greeting cards, just the good old-fashioned written words of thanks.  I make it a priority as often as I can to write thank you notes to those who helped me accomplish my goals throughout the past week.  I encourage you to seek opportunities to leave thank-you notes in your child’s lunch bag or backpack, thanking them for what they did to help you or simply just for being here.


Teach It Through Active Giving.  Teaching a child to be truly thankful can be taught most effectively by first teaching them to give to others, especially during the holiday season.  Consider encouraging your children to cull out some of their clothing or toys.  Find a local charity that accepts donations and allow your child to participate in the process to determine what will be donated, including going along on the trip to make the actual drop-off of the items.  It’s always much easier for us to get it done, but allowing them to participate creates invaluable learning opportunities.  Allow your children to create things with their hands and bring them to others who need some cheering up.  If your children are older, volunteer at a local soup kitchen during the Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday.  Set up a process for your child to break up money they receive from chores or holidays into separate containers or envelopes for saving, spending and donating.  

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