Encouraging an Attitude of Gratitude in Young Children

10 ways to help your little one learn about and express gratitude this season!

It’s easy to have high expectations for your child’s behavior during the holiday season, only to be disappointed by an unappreciative attitude. But just remember gratefulness is not an inherent skill for young children! We have to teach them what it means to be thankful and how to express gratitude.

Here are ten simple ways to teach your child about gratitude.

1. Read Books About Gratitude

We recommend starting with books for any topic you’re child may need support on, and this one is no different. Books can be a great way to start a conversation about what gratitude means and ways that certain characters express it. Pick up some books about giving and gratitude on your next trip to the library. Check out this list for some ideas.

2. Model Gratitude And Authenticity Yourself

Model what gratitude looks like for your children. Show them how to respond and teach them words that they can say when someone does something nice — whether someone gives you a gift, pays you a compliment or hosts you for a meal.

3. Teach Through Role Play

The next time your child is playing with their toy animals or people, create and act out scenarios to help them practice grateful words and actions. For example, take a toy animal in each hand and have one say to the other, “Would you like some cake?” Then, have the other respond, “Yes, thank you so much. I love cake! It’s so nice of you to share.” Or even a “No thank you. I don’t want any right now. But thank you so much for offering it to me!” This helps them practice those words in a comfortable situation.

4. Talk About Feelings Of Gratitude

Have conversations with your child and ask them how they feel when they have done something for someone. Also, ask them how they feel when someone has helped them. This will reinforce the act of giving and being grateful.

5. Include Them In Writing Thank-You Notes

When it’s time to send a thank you note to someone, include your child in the process. They can create artwork for your thank you note, and you can use this time to teach them why it is important to thank people for what they have done. You can also have them tell you what they like about gifts that they have received and write that down.

6. Encourage Your Child To Be A Helper

Each morning, ask your child how they can lend a helping hand. Then you can ask them at the end of the day what they did. Be sure to praise them for their actions too. This is also a great topic for families to each respond to at the dinner table.

7. Say “Please” And “Thank You” At Home Regularly

Similar to modeling gratitude, be sure to use please and thank you at home regularly. That way, it becomes second nature to your child. Offering your child genuine and direct thanks for their contributions shows them how easy it is to express. “Thanks for handing me that napkin. It’s just what I needed!”

8. Start A New Habit

At dinner have everyone at the table share one thing they are grateful for. This can be a person, a special moment, pets, colors or things.

9. Start A Gratitude Jar

This is good for all ages! You can do this after dinner, since it will be fresh in everyone’s minds. You can start off when they are little by writing what your child says and put it in the jar. As your child gets older he/she can write or draw what they are grateful for themselves. It will be fun for your child to watch the jar fill up each day.

10. Give Back 

During the holidays, it is a good time to be grateful for what you have, but you can take this one step further. Include your child in giving back to your community. Pack up some toys that your child has outgrown and donate them, or enjoy some meaningful bonding time and volunteer in the community together as a family. The simple act of regularly cleaning up the sidewalk by your home or a local park shows your little one what it means to be a citizen.

Gratitude is just one of the many social and emotional skills we work on in our classrooms. To learn more about what other skills we work on, visit our program pages.

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