Six Ways to Help Children Learn Habits of Gratitude


Raising children with a sense of gratitude can be challenging. In today’s permissive atmosphere, some children may seem greedy or pushy when they demand toys or special outings. This is normal from a developmental standpoint, but modeling habits of gratitude gives your child an important skill to draw on as they grow up. With our six easy tips, you can help your children be more empathetic and more appreciative of the things they have.

1. Start Small

Even very young children can be taught the basics of being thankful. Encourage your young children to share and help them learn to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Remind them how they feel when they haven’t had a turn with a toy, and that their friend or sibling is feeling that way. While it may feel like you are constantly asking children to think of others’ feelings, rest assured that the message is sinking in.

2. Say No Sometimes

If children have never heard the word “no,” they are more likely to be greedy and entitled. Parents who say “no” give children the opportunity to appreciate when they are allowed to have the special treat that they want. Earning the treat or toy makes it especially meaningful.

3. Make Time for Family Thankfulness

It’s a great idea to take time out from your family routine to express gratitude. At the dinner table each night, or even in the car on the way to an activity, ask your children what makes them thankful. You may be surprised by their responses. Understanding what children are thankful for gives you an insight into their development and their personality. Share what makes you thankful as well: this will give your children perspective on what is important in life.

4. Thank Others

This is a habit that has somewhat fallen by the wayside, but it’s important to teach children to thank people. From thanking a sports coach or teacher with a small gift and handwritten card to writing thank-you notes for holiday gifts, showing appreciation to people outside the family is easy and will give children practice for adulthood. Thanking people gives children a sense of empathy as well, as they think about the gift-giver’s feelings.

5. Parents Should Model Thankfulness

Nagging children to thank others may be effective, but the best way to teach is by setting a good example. Let your children see you thanking others, and be sure to thank them when they are kind to a sibling or complete a chore around the house. Children thrive on reinforcement from a parent, and they will be more likely to thank others in the future when they realize how good it makes them feel.

6. Help Your Child Help Others

Children who have always had everything they need and want have a difficult time imagining life without it. Involve your children in community service at an appropriate level for their age. Even the youngest children can help shop for groceries to donate to a food bank. Older children can collect supplies to donate to a homeless shelter. Teens can work at a soup kitchen or spend time reading to the elderly. Involving your children in service organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts also helps them to think of the needs of their community.

Teaching children gratitude is important for their development. The best way to teach gratitude is to model it yourself. Children live by their parents’ example, and showing them how to express appreciation is a skill they will draw on throughout their lives.


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