I love Thanksgiving. Every year, I enjoy the opportunity to focus on the things I am grateful for – from my amazing husband and five kids to my favorite grey house slippers and the electric blanket on our bed. As I try to increase my own feelings of thankfulness, I find myself wondering, “How can I teach my kids to feel and express gratitude?”
Recent research from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill suggests that there are four parts to gratitude:
1. What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can feel grateful
2. What we THINK about why we have received something good
3. What we FEEL about the goodness we’ve received
4. What we DO to voice our appreciation
Its’s probably not surprising that the majority of parents focus primarily on teaching their kids the importance of the 4th element: DOING things to express their gratitude. They emphasize saying thank you, and gratitude training often ends there. The study from UNC notes that the first three components of NOTICE – THINK – FEEL are what really help our children to develop a personal attitude of gratitude in their lives.
Here is a HUGE list of some great gratitude activities that have helped our chilrdren to NOTICE the blessings in their lives, first with ideas for November and others to do all year round.
How to Teach Gratitude to Your Kids During the Thanksgiving Season
-The paper bag turkey.
Every November, I used to take a brown grocery bag and stuff it with newspaper. I’d set it up on its side and cut out a construction paper neck, head, beak, and wattle. Then we’d cut out feathers of different colors and every night one kid would share something he was thankful for. We’d write it down or draw a simple picture of what he’d shared and taped it with packing tape to the back of the bag. It was always fun to watch our little turkey grow a huge fan of feathers as Thanksgiving approached.
-The thankful banner.
Now we use this banner in November. Pretty cute, right?! Let me just assure you: I didn’t make it! My sweet, crafty friend gifted it to us last year, and we love it! Just like with the turkey grocery bag, we write down one thing one child is thankful for. I always keep the papers or feathers in an envelope so we can look back and see what things our kids were grateful for over the years. Some of my favorites are things like: dinosaurs, our hands and feet, LEGOs, and pizza. Yes, we are all thankful for pizza in this house!
For my kids who can I write, I print out a cute gratitude workbook page or printable journal for them to fill out every year. Deb from Bits of Positivity has an awesome roundup of free gratitude printables here. Her list is fantastic and has resources for kids of all ages and writing and drawing ability. My kids do these as part of our homeschool, but you don’t have to homeschool to do this at all! It could be something you give your kids to do as you prepare the Thanksgiving meal or put away groceries earlier in the week. You could even let them know that they will get to share their list, journal, or drawing with the family during Thanksgiving dinner.
-Thanksgiving dinner share.
When I was growing up, my family always went around the Thanksgiving dinner table and each person would share what he or she was thankful for that year. We tried to make it quick, but there were times that our emotions got the best of us and a sweet tear or two would be shed. I have beautiful memories of sitting around that table and feeling the love and gratitude our family had for each other. Were we a perfect family? Absolutely not! But there were moments like these that still stand out to me.
As you do any of these activities, be sure to ask your kids questions such as “How does that blessing make you FEEL?” “Why do you THINK you received this gift/blessing?” You will be deepening their ability to understand gratitude in a very meaningful way!
How to Teach Gratitude to Your Kids Throughout the Year
-The thankful circle.
Over a year ago, we got a little spiral bound notebook and started writing down one thing everyday that each person was grateful for. We do this before bed, when all the kids are in their pajamas. It takes just a matter of minutes. Sure, there have been days when a moody child will say that she’s thankful for nothing (!), but for the V A S T majority of days, the kids can easily come up with something that happened that they feel gratitude for. This is one of my very favorite ways to teach our kids how to recognize the FEELING of gratitude.
-The gratitude coins jar.
For this, just get a simple glass mason jar with a lid and keep a stack or bowl of coins nearby. When someone has something they are feeling grateful for, they drop a coin into the jar. When the jar is full, you could choose to have a family outing for hot cocoa, a museum, or a movie. Or, choose to give the money to someone in need or use it to purchase a Thanksgiving meal for a family in need.
-Teach your kids to say thank you.
When they receive a special favor or recognition, teach them to look the giver in the eye, and reply with “thank you.” I have heard some people express that they don’t prefer when parents prompt their children to say thank you, as they feel the gratitude is not sincere. Personally, I feel a parent prompting a child is ABSOLUTELY FINE – children need to be taught both in the moment and by repetition. As time passes and children age, they will need to learn how to recognize those feelings of gratitude but if they already have been taught HOW to express them, they will be that much farther ahead.
There are so many ways to serve with your kids – even if they are small. At church, my little kids help put the hymn books in order every week. It’s a simple thing they haven’t been asked to do, but it makes us all feel important and thankful for the church we belong to. We are filling out our family application to work at the food bank in our town. Check your local food bank’s rules – I was surprised and happy to find that ours is very welcoming to families with kids of younger ages.
-Write and send thank you notes throughout the year.
When your child receives a gift, teach him or her how to write a thank you card. For my toddlers, I often will have them dictate what they’d like to say as I write it down. Then they sign their own name and place the stamp on the envelope before we send it off. My older kids can do this on their own now, but I still remind them it needs to be done and provide the cards and stamps. How nice am I, really?!
-Go on a thankfulness walk.
As you walk outside together, make it a point to look for things in nature that make you feel grateful. You could take photos of all the things you find to be thankful for. This can be a wonderful tradition every Thanksgiving day, or something you do more often throughout the year!
-Read and discuss picture books about gratitude together.
Here are some that come highly recommended!
1. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
2. Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are by Dr. Seuss
3. The Thankful Book by Todd Parr
4. Thankful by Eileen Spinelli
5. Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson
Again, remember you can really teach all elements of gratitude to your kids by asking questions such as, “How does thinking about this blessing make you FEEL?” Or “Do you THINK the gift was something the giver had to give you?” Certainly, practicing gratitude is hugely important. But helping our children to recognize grateful feelings and ponder about them will help them to become more thankful people.
How to Teach Gratitude to Your Kids by Living Gratefully
We all know that kids learn so much from observing the examples we set for them. I love the saying that “More is caught than taught.” So if you want your kids to grow to be grateful children, practice becoming a grateful adult!
-Do the simple things, like saying thank you and writing thank you notes.
I have a goal to write one thank you note every week. I’m not perfect at it, but every Monday I have a reminder set in my phone that signals it is time to write my note. Honestly, writing a short note takes no longer than 5-10 minutes and my kids see me set it out on the counter for the mailbox every week.
-Create your own gratitude journal.
Once a day, write down 3-5 things you are thankful for in your life. They can be big things, like health and family, or small things like your favorite chocolate bar or a beautiful sunset. I recommend doing this either just upon waking in the morning or right before you go to bed. Recent studies have shown that establishing this habit can help people get better sleep, reduce stress levels, and develop better relationships. Just grab any old notebook or a piece of paper to get started on this today!
-Share your gratitude with your kids.
Every night as I tuck my kids in bed, I try to thank them for something they did that day. Sometimes it is as simple as thanking them for putting away their pajamas without being asked. I want them to know that I notice the good things they do and that I am thankful for the ways they help me and our family.
-Say prayers that only offer praise for the things you are grateful for.
This is a wonderful practice that I have done at different times in my life. See if you can offer a prayer where you only express thankfulness for the blessings in your life, and ask for nothing. I have done this as one-off prayers. Other times I make it something I do every morning when I wake up. Prayers like these aren’t natural for me, but they do help me realize how much I have to be grateful for!
I hope you all have a wonderful experience preparing for Thanksgiving this year and you can see your children becoming more grateful in their lives! I’d love to share a few more gratitude ideas for your family with you – so subscribe to my newsletter below and get all of the extras that I share once a week!
Which of these ideas do you want to try with your family?
P.S. If you are still hanging on to Halloween candy and are ready to be done with it, check out this article here: What to Do With All of that Halloween Candy!