If you are wondering how to teach gratitude to your kids, you’re in the right place!
Thanksgiving will be here before we know it, so this is the perfect time to start thinking about how to teach gratitude to your kids.
Did you know that there are actually four parts to becoming more grateful in our lives?
The four parts of gratitude
Recent research from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill suggests that there are four parts to gratitude:
- What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can feel grateful
- What we THINK about why we have received something good
- How we FEEL about the goodness we’ve received
- What we DO to voice our appreciation
It’s probably not surprising that the majority of parents focus on teaching their kids the importance of the fourth element: DOING things to express their gratitude.
We emphasize saying thank you … and gratitude training often ends there.
But there is a big difference between ACTING grateful and BEING grateful.
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.
So how do we help our kids start to notice, think about, and feel gratitude?
How to teach your kids to notice reasons for gratitude
Keep reading for a huge list of awesome gratitude activities that you can do with your kids to help them notice, think about, and feel gratitude for the blessings in their lives.
You’ll see lots of gratitude activities to do with your kids during the Thanksgiving season AND throughout the year.
Be sure to download these great gratitude quotes printables! You can put them up all over your home, on your mirror, or use them as place cards for your Thanksgiving dinner!
Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that I may make a small commission if you click through or purchase at no cost to you. For more information, click here.
Part I: How to teach gratitude to your kids during the Thanksgiving season
1. The paper bag turkey
If you have littles at home, they will love this idea!
At the beginning of November, take a brown paper grocery bag and stuff it with newspaper. Fold it over at the top and seal it with packing tape.
Next, set it up on its side and cut out a construction paper neck, head, beak, and wattle.
Then cut out construction paper feathers of different colors. You’ll need at least one for every day between when you start and Thanksgiving.
Finally, every night in November, have one kid share something he or she feels thankful for. It might be something big, such as family, or something very simple, like the beautiful leaf you found on a walk. Whatever your child suggests, be sure to focus on the feeling aspect of gratitude.
Write it down or draw a simple picture of what was shared and tape it with packing tape to the back of the bag.
It was always fun to watch your paper bag turkey grow a huge fan of feathers as Thanksgiving approaches!
2. The thankful pocket banner
For older kids (and you’re a little bit crafty!), you might consider putting together a simple pocket banner.
Full disclosure: I didn’t make ours! My sweet, crafty friend gifted it to us last year, and we love it!
Just like with the turkey grocery bag, you will write down one thing one child is thankful for each evening before bed.
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!
3. Gratitude notebook pages
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. (I have this printable coming soon here too!)
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 also invite them to share their list, journal, or drawing with the family during Thanksgiving dinner.
4. 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.
I have beautiful memories of sitting around our Thanksgiving feast and feeling the love and gratitude our family had for each other.
To really help teach gratitude to your kids, be sure to ask your kids questions such as “How does that blessing make you FEEL?” and “Why do you THINK you received this gift/blessing?”
You will be deepening their ability to understand gratitude in a very meaningful way!
Part II: How to teach gratitude to your kids throughout the year
1. The thankful circle
The thankful is a simple and effective way to help teach gratitude to your kids.
All you need is a little notebook, a pen, and a routine. Nothing fancy!
Make a simple entry with the date and write down one thing each person in the family is thankful for that day.
At our house, we do this at bedtime when all the kids are in their pajamas and are gathered for family prayer and bedtime stories.
It literally only takes a few minutes.
Sure, there have been days when a moody child will say that she’s thankful for nothing (haha!), but for the V A S T majority of days, the kids can easily come up with something that they feel gratitude for.
This is one of my very favorite ways to teach our kids how to recognize the FEELING of gratitude.
2. The gratitude coins jar
If you are saving up money for an event or a vacation as a family, the gratitude coins jar would be perfect for you!
All you need is a simple glass mason jar with a lid and a stack or bowl of coins nearby.
When someone has something they are feeling grateful for, they drop a coin into the jar.
(If you aren’t saving for anything in particular, you could have slips of paper to write down the things people are feeling grateful for too!)
When the jar is full, you could choose to have a family outing for hot cocoa, a museum, a movie – or of course apply it to the larger vacation or event you’re saving for!
During the holidays, you could also choose to give the money to someone in need or use it to purchase a Thanksgiving meal for a family with limited resources.
3. Teach your kids to say thank you
While recognizing and feeling gratitude are important, it is still essential to teach our kids to express their gratitude as well.
In a Parenting 101 article, Laura Kuehn, LCSW reminds us that even kids who are very young should be taught to express gratitude.
With sign language!
Here’s a simple video that shows how to make to the American Sign Language for “thank you”:
You can teach our kids that when they receive a special favor or recognition, they should 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 because kids 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 their feelings of gratitude, but if they already have been taught HOW to express them, they will be that much farther ahead.
4. Volunteer with your kids
Doing acts of service or volunteering are great ways to teach gratitude to your kids.
There are so many ways to serve with your kids, even if they are small.
Here are a few simple opportunities to volunteer that you could do with your kids:
- pick up trash in your neighborhood or a nearby park
- leave a care package on an elderly neighbor’s doorstep
- restock or sort books at the local library
- help out at the local food bank
- pet animals or donate old pillows to the animal shelter
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.
5. 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 note.
Writing a handwritten note is becoming a lost art these days, but it is a simple gesture that can make a BIG impact!
For your toddlers, you can have them dictate what they’d like to say as you write it down. Let them sign their own name and place the stamp on the envelope before you send it off.
Your older kids can be taught to do this on their own, but you may still need to remind them it needs to be done and provide the cards and stamps.
6. 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!
7. Read and discuss picture books about gratitude together
Here are some that come highly recommended!
In this delightful Caldecott Medal book, Sylvester finds a magic pebble that will make all his wishes come true. As the story concludes, Sylvester is is reunited with his family and realizes how much he already has to be thankful for.
If you have a Dr. Seuss fan in your house, this book is MUST for your home library! While the book uses the word “lucky,” you can point out that “lucky” can easily be interchanged with the word “blessed.”
Part III: How to teach gratitude to your kids by living gratefully yourself
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.”
If you want your kids to grow to be grateful children, practice becoming a grateful adult!
1. Do the simple things, like saying thank you and writing thank you notes
Honestly, writing a short note takes no longer than 5-10 minutes, but the impact it can have is HUGE!
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.
2. 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.
You can definitely grab any old notebook to get started on this today, but I really love this beautiful and highly-rated gratitude journal instead.
3. Share your gratitude with your kids
Let your kids know how and why you are grateful for them!
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.
4. Say prayers that only offer praise for the things you are grateful for
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 often aren’t natural for us, but they can help us realize how much we have to be grateful for!
Final thoughts about teaching gratitude to our kids
Teaching gratitude to your kids won’t happen over night.
And that’s okay.
But the small efforts we make day in and day out DO make a difference, I promise!
Choose a few activities from this article and just get started! And remember, if it doesn’t go perfectly – that is okay. Try again the next day. And the day after that.
I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving this year and have much to be thankful for in your life TODAY, mama!
Thanks for sharing your time with me here and for your support!