Encouraging Kids to Be Grateful

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.
—William Arthur Ward, American scholar

Our kids receive a gift, and what do they say? We want them to be grateful, to learn how to say thank you, and to be sincere in their appreciation. But how do you teach gratitude? Consider these ideas.

For more ideas, see Celebrating Holidays and Special Occasions, ParentFurther.com’s newest article series!

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • Model sincere appreciation. Kids notice when you have an attitude of gratitude—and when you don’t.
    • Teach kids about the generosity of spirit. We can be thankful for life in general, the good things that come our way, and even the difficulties that teach us about ourselves and the great questions of life.
    • Encourage kids to help others. Being grateful is also about doing good for others.
    • Be creative with gratitude. If your child receives a huge gift, take pieces of paper together and write one letter on each piece to say, “Here’s a Big Thank-You!” Tape the paper together to make a large, foldout poster. Then, decorate the letters together and have your child sign his or her name before giving it to the person.
    • Talk about what to do when you receive something you dislike. Be honest that every gift you get may not be your favorite. However, it’s important to be thankful for people being generous. It’s sincere to say, “Thanks for giving me this gift,” or “Thanks for thinking of me,” even if you don’t like what you received.
    • Encourage your kids to forgive others. Yes, they can still stand up for themselves, but a generous spirit is a forgiving spirit.
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Play a thank-you game every day. When your kids are infants and toddlers, say that you’re thankful for them every day. For example, “I’m glad you’re here. I like it when you smile. I’m thankful for your giggles.” Once your child begins to speak, ask her every day what she is thankful for.
    • Be clear that your child needs to say “thank you” every time he receives a gift. Help your child practice. If he receives something, ask, “What do you say?” Saying “thank you” together might help if he is shy.
    • Show that there are ways to be thankful other than writing a note. Bake a batch of cookies—or have your child draw a thank-you picture. You don’t even need to be thanking someone for something. You can just be thankful for a person and want to show your gratitude.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Talk about how thankful you are for the important adults in your kid’s life. Then reach out to these people to show your appreciation. One Colorado parent wrote thank-you notes to the bus driver, the school janitor, the teacher, the coach, and the club leaders with whom her kids interacted.
    • Make it a rule: your child can’t start using a gift until he has written and mailed a thank-you. Follow that rule yourself so you’re modeling what you’re teaching.
    • Tap into young teens’ creativity in showing their appreciation. For example, kids might collect a bunch of gum (unopened) to give to a favorite teacher. Or they might make a humorous award for the silliest coach.
    • Talk about the wonders of life. If your child enjoys a video game, a certain musical instrument, or playing a certain sport, talk about how great it is that someone invented it.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Continue to emphasize being thankful. Research shows that kids and teens that learn to appreciate things are less likely to be materialistic. (See the results from Harris Interactive.)
    • Encourage older teens to write formal thank-you notes to teachers, counselors, coaches, and other adults who take the time to write letters of recommendation for colleges, scholarships, and other activities they hope to do after high school.
    • Point out that even though times are changing, a written thank-you note is still one of the best ways to show appreciation. Yes, your teenager may have said “thank you” or even sent an e-mail (or a text message), but many people still like to receive a mailed thank-you, as it shows good manners.
  • Give older teenagers context for the good and bad things that happen to them. Talk about how challenges help to shape us—and make us better people (if we learn from these challenges and don’t become bitter). Mention what a wonder it is to be going to a high-quality public school, to live in a caring neighborhood, or even to have great friends.

Be sure to check out Celebrating Holidays and Special Occasions for more tips on making the holidays a positive time for everyone in your family.

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