How to Teach Gratitude to Your Kids

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:

  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. How we FEEL about the goodness we’ve received
  4. What we DO to voice our appreciation

teach kids gratitude

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.

While you’re at it, be sure to download these great gratitude quotes printables from the Jen Bradley|MOMs Printable Library!

You can put them up all over your home, on your mirror, or use them as place cards for your Thanksgiving dinner! 


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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 is always fun to watch your paper bag turkey grow a huge fan of feathers as Thanksgiving approaches! 

2. The thankful pocket banner

This thankful banner helps our kids think about something they are grateful for everyday.

For older kids (and if 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.

You may want to keep the papers or feathers in an envelope so you can look back and see what things your 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 your kids who can write, print out our cute gratitude workbook page for your kids to fill out right here!  

printable thankful page

You could give it to 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.

To really help teach gratitude to your kids, 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?”
  • “Why do you FEEL thankful for that today?
  • “What is something you’ve recently THOUGHT about feeling thankful for?”

These simple questions can help them deepen 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 circle 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. 

You might do this at bedtime when all the kids are in their pajamas, at dinnertime, or even first thing in the morning at breakfast. 

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

The Gratitude Coins Jar is a great way to teach your kids gratitude.

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 is important, it’s still essential to teach our kids to express their gratitude as well. 

In Parenting 101, 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 the American Sign Language for “thank you”: 

You can teach your 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.

But there is power in repetition, so this practice isn’t all bad!

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

If you’re looking for volunteer opportunities near you, check out the website JustServe!


5. Write and send thank-you notes throughout the year

Writing thank you notes is an important way to teach gratitude to kids.

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 great Thanksgiving books for your younger kids: 

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

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.

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? by Dr. Seuss

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.”

Thankful by Eileen Spinelli This delightful picture book helps kids to recognize feelings of gratitude. It also helps kids to be grateful for groups of people to feel thankful for – from the farmers to the firemen.
The Thankful Book by Todd Parr  If you’ve ever read a Todd Parr book, you know that they are full of simple, colorful words and pictures that resonate well with young kids. The Thankful Book is no exception!
Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson With easy to understand words and engaging illustrations, the Bear Books are well-loved favorites! In this book, Bear wants to host a feast for his animal friends – only to find that his cupboards are bare.


Part III: How to teach gratitude to your kids by living gratefully yourself

We all know that kids learn from observing the examples we set for them.

Remember: “More is caught than taught.”

If you want your kids to grow to be grateful children, we need to practice becoming grateful adults!

1. Do the simple things, like saying thank you and writing thank-you notes

Writing a short note takes no longer than 5-10 minutes, but the impact it can have is HUGE!

Set a reminder for yourself to write a thank-you note once a week and see how it goes!

2. Create your own gratitude journal

Keeping a gratitude journal is a wonderful practice for teaching gratitude to your kids.

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.

You may want to do this either right when you wake up in the morning or just 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 too!

3. Share your gratitude with your kids

Let your kids know how and why you are grateful for them!

Take a minute before bedtime 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 or sharing a toy with a sibling.

4. Say prayers that only offer praise for the things you are grateful for

Giving thanks ourselves is essential in teaching our kids gratitude.

See if you can offer a prayer where you only express thankfulness for the blessings in your life and ask for nothing.

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 overnight.

And that’s okay.

But the small efforts you make day in and day out DO make a difference!

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!


Related articles about  Thanksgiving:

15 Hilarious Thanksgiving Family Feud Questions Your Family Will Love

9 Awesome Thanksgiving Day Activities for Kids and Toddlers

Try the Perfect 30-Day Gratitude Challenge for Moms

Which of these ideas are you going to use to teach gratitude to your kids?


Pin the image below so you can come back to these ideas when you need them! 

teach kids gratitude


How to Teach Gratitude to Your KidsHow to Teach Gratitude to Your KidsHow to Teach Gratitude to Your KidsHow to Teach Gratitude to Your KidsHow to Teach Gratitude to Your Kids

Jen Bradley, the founder of Jen Bradley|MOMs

Hi there! I’m Jen and I’m so glad you’re here. I am a mom who believes that meaningful connections with our families can happen in small and simple ways. Read More …


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12 thoughts on “How to Teach Gratitude to Your Kids”

  1. I love this post! We teach gratitude to our kids by doing many of these things, but we certainly can take time to do more. It is a gift to give children the ability to be grateful. Thank you for sharing these wonderful ideas!

  2. The way you break down how our kids grasp gratefulness really makes sense!! We can focus on outward acts so much and forget its how we perceive the world around us that makes all the difference!

  3. I love this because this is something I feel kids are losing In our society…they don’t know how to be grateful for anything , because we aren’t tea hung them! We need to be mindful of that! Great post

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