Gratitude is one of the most important things we can teach to our children. Sure, polite kids who say “thank you” are pleasant to be around, but it goes far deeper than that.
By developing gratitude, children become sensitive to the feelings of others, learn to look at the world through a positive lens, build self-confidence, and grow to appreciate the things their parents and other people do for them—preparing dinner, giving them toys, and helping them with their homework, just to name a few.
One 2019 study found that gratitude is linked to happiness in children by age 5. Another study found that grateful children tend to be happier, more optimistic, and report more satisfaction with their schools, families, and communities.
Here are even simple, engaging exercises you can use to help your kids embrace an attitude of gratitude. Gratitude is like a muscle—the more we exercise it the more it grows. By practicing these exercises with your child often, you’ll start seeing your child practice gratitude - and that will surely make your heart swell with pride.
Share your gratitude every day
Take five minutes in the beginning and/or end of the day to ask your child what they’re grateful for. You could also take this time to share some things with your child that you’re grateful for. This practice of sharing is a great tool for building connection and strengthening gratitude muscles. Make this a daily habit and soon enough it will be something that you both look forward to.
Create a gratitude jar
Creating a gratitude jar is the perfect way to help your child think about and recognize the things they’re grateful for. Find a glass jar you can use to collect paper gratitude notes. You can even let your child decorate it as they please. Then make a habit of having each family member write down what they’re grateful for on a piece of paper and place it in the jar each day or week. This activity is fun and interactive and something your child will likely enjoy doing.
On a specified day (Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve works well, but any day is fine!), empty the jar and read the notes out loud so your whole family can reflect on all the wonderful things in their lives.
Take a gratitude walk
Go for a nature walk and stop to notice something you can be grateful for, such as the beauty of a flower, the magnificence of a tree, the warm feeling of the sun, or the cheery sound of birds singing— feeling grateful for nature is truly endless! Talk about the things you and your child notice and help them express what it is they appreciate about them. Nature is uplifting in and of itself, but when you slow down and take the time to truly appreciate its beauty, it increases its magic tenfold.
Write a gratitude letter
Help your child write a gratitude letter to someone they love and appreciate, whether it’s a friend, family member, or someone in your community. Encourage them to express how that person has positively impacted their life and how that makes them feel. If they’re comfortable, pay a visit to that special person to read the letter out loud. If not, just send it through the mail. When your child sees how much their recipient loves and appreciates the note, they’ll understand the power of expressing gratitude.
Give to others
One of the best ways to encourage an attitude of gratitude in our children is by helping others. You and your child could participate in a food, clothing, or toy drive, get involved with a neighborhood or beach cleanup, or gather belongings from your house that you don’t need anymore and deliver them to a shelter or nonprofit organization. Use these experiences to explain to your child why these places need these items and how providing them helps others. Giving to others not only helps children develop empathy and compassion, but also makes them more aware of and grateful for all the things they have in their lives.
Discuss examples of being grateful
Talking about memories or experiences is a great way to discuss gratitude. Ask your child to recall something that made them happy—perhaps a family holiday, a birthday party, time spent playing with their favorite toy or at the playground, or an experience with a friend. Ask your child how it feels when they talk about the things they’re grateful for. This creates an opportunity to reinforce how gratitude creates positive feelings.
- Tell your child about things you’re grateful for
Teaching your children how to express their gratitude is very important and one of the best ways to do that is by demonstrating it yourself. Tell your child how grateful you are when they listen to you, how much you appreciate having healthy food, or how thankful you are for having a loving spouse. Children are constantly learning from us and modeling our behavior, so hearing you express these sentiments will encourage them to look for things to be grateful for and share their sentiments with others as well.
Patience is a virtue
You can’t expect your little one to develop a sense of gratitude overnight, but with consistent reinforcement, it will eventually start shining through. Although it requires effort, teaching your kids gratitude is a journey that will reward you and your child with more resilience, positivity, and wellbeing through your lifetimes—and it’s so worth it.
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