Teaching Your Children Gratitude: Here’s How.

Father with his family outdoors

Gratitude is often an underappreciated skill in children’s emotional toolbelts. It’s an important skill that they’ll use well into adult life, so it’s important to instill it in them from an early age. Here’s everything you need to know about when to start teaching your children gratitude and how to do it.

When Should I Start?

While there’s never a bad time to start talking about gratitude with your kids, some times are better than others. In very early childhood, most children think from an egocentric perspective. Meaning that they don’t fully understand that other people also experience thoughts and feelings. They slowly start outgrowing this from the ages of 2-6. As they begin to grasp the big, broad concepts like empathy, more specific emotions like gratitude will come along naturally. This period is the best time to start. 

Once your child reaches the age of 7-8 or so, they’ll have more or less grown out of egocentric thinking, and you can expand on your previous gratitude lessons in new ways. Of course, knowing when to start isn’t all that helpful if you don’t know how to start, so let’s take a look at a few ways you can help your child learn gratitude.

Practice Saying Thank You

Front view adorable son playing with mom

One of the simplest ways you can teach your children to be grateful is by encouraging them to say thank you at every opportunity. Because children require so much special care and attention from so many people in their early years. They often don’t quite realize how much physical and emotional labor that attention requires and may take it for granted. Encouraging them to say thank you to their friends, family members, service workers, and anyone else who helps them can make them much more aware of this. With this greater level of awareness, a greater level of gratitude is sure to come with.

Write Thank-You Notes

Whenever your child receives gifts for a birthday or holiday, sit down and help them write thank-you notes. Thank-you notes do two things: encourage your kid to say thank you, and give them time to think about the gift itself. We’ve already covered why saying thank you is important, but why do they need to think about the gift itself? 

Simply put, gifts are more than just an item. Gifts are a symbol of affection, caring, and thoughtfulness, and a good gift means that someone knows and cares about you enough to pick out something you appreciate. A thank-you note helps your child reflect on the meaningfulness of this gesture, and express gratitude for it. This introspection followed by action is the most important part of learning gratitude, and will help your child learn quickly.

Teach Mindfulness

Medium shot grandson kissing grandmother showing gratitude

All too often, we forget things that are truly meaningful and begin to take them for granted. This isn’t just an issue with kids; it affects adults too. The problem is that when we take the things we have for granted, the people who provide them feel unappreciated, and this creates a sense of animosity. To prevent this, start doing mindfulness exercises. Though they’re often thought of as gratitude activities for kids, they’re just as helpful for you. 

For a few minutes every day, maybe over dinner, take some time with your kids to name the things you’re thankful for. Maybe it’s the companionship of your pets. Maybe it’s the good food in your bellies. Maybe it’s the warmth and safety of your home. Or maybe it’s just the fact that you’re all there together in that moment. Whatever it is, take time with your kids to express gratitude for it out loud. This encourages the entire family to remember the small stuff that makes life great, and helps you all to practice gratitude each and every day.

Split Household Chores (And Thank Everyone for Their Work!)

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If your children are old enough to handle small household chores by themselves, start delegating work! This both takes part of the workload off your shoulders and teaches your kids the value of their own work. More importantly, though, they’ll gain a greater understanding of all the work that goes into keeping a clean house. Once all the chores are done, huddle up, take a few minutes for everyone to thank each other for their work, and celebrate a job well done!

Lead by Example

Finally and most importantly, set a good example of gratitude for your kids. Children watch their parents like hawks and pick up their behaviors as they grow. If you express gratitude for everything, your children will start expressing gratitude as well. Though it may not feel like you’re doing much, setting a good example like this is one of the most important things you can do to raise your children to be grateful.

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