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Teaching Thankfulness

By: Courtney Newman

As we head into Thanksgiving this year, many of us are focused on the theme of thankfulness.  Parents often utilize November as a chance to encourage daily gratitude journals and to help children consider aspects of their lives for which they can express gratitude and to remember their blessings.  These reflections are equally important for us as parents and can help us reset and refocus if we are in a busy or stressful season of life.

However, sometimes teaching kids to be thankful is easier said than done.  It’s tricky to teach gratitude for kids, especially when they sometimes don’t seem grateful for the presents we’ve already given them.  Immediately following lessons on thankfulness, our children may start demanding new toys from the holiday ads, or having meltdowns in the store when we say “no.”  How can we, instead, truly teach thankfulness not only to our children’s minds but to their hearts?

10 Unique Ideas for Teaching Kids Thankfulness

Teaching kids gratitude isn’t just about better-behaved children, it’s about helping children become sensitive to the feelings of others.  When a person is thankful, they are recognizing that someone else went out of their way for them, even though they didn’t have to.  It is part of our value system as humans and shows that our efforts are meaningful to others. In the end, it comes down to kindness.  Even some adults still haven’t learned gratitude, but it’s important for respecting relationships with other people.  

  • Model thankfulness. We’ve all heard the saying, “Do what I say, not what I do,” but parenting just doesn’t work that way.  Kids are learning most of their behavior from what we do subconsciously. How often have you been surprised at what your child picked up from you?  They keep us on our toes! To teach your child thankfulness, you’ll have to model it yourself.
  • Show gratitude to your children. Kids are humans too and deserve thanks.  Thanking your child creates a bond, helps teach them empathy, shows them that their thoughts and actions are valuable, and also serves as positive reinforcement for their good behavior.  Even small actions down to thanking your child for a hug can go a long way!
  • Incorporate gratitude frequently and naturally in conversation. Begin to bring a discussion of gratitude for the small things (a beautiful day, a delicious meal, a cheerful mood, a cuddly pet) into regular conversation.  Don’t overdo it by making everything a lesson, but let thankfulness flow naturally through your day. Frequency helps ideas stick!
  • Encourage gratitude by helping others. Whether your family volunteers in the community or simply helps others without expecting anything in return, your children will experience the gratitude of others firsthand.  This will help them see why thankfulness is important.
  • Teach your children how to show thankfulness. We’ve all received awful presents and yet, still showed gratitude because we were thankful for the time, effort, and money that the gift giver spent on us.  Regardless of how much we like a gift, we still need to show gratitude. Even if your kids aren’t genuinely thankful for the plain white socks from Grandma, coach them on how to show a thankful spirit.  A truly grateful attitude will eventually develop.
  • Encourage your children to be generous. For example, when donating clothes or items to thrift stores, discuss why we do it, and ask them if they want to donate anything.  When they see you donating your own items, they will be more likely to want to as well!
  • Involve your kids with household tasks. When you ask your kids to help out, even if it is agonizing to watch them take forever to do something simple, they will learn gratitude for what you do around the house.  Avoid taking over, but offer to help if they need it.
  • Write thank-you notes! Not many people write thank-you notes these days, but it’s a good step of etiquette to remember.  Further, helping your kids write thank-you notes for their gifts from friends and grandparents will put the focus back on gratitude and why they are thankful for the gifts!
  • You love your kids, and that’s why you say no. When you don’t give in to your child’s every whim for candy and toys, the one “Yes!” will mean infinitely more to your child.  We love our children and want them to be happy, but part of that means saying no at times.
  • Remember: disappointment does not equal ungratefulness. Many parents feel frustrated when their children are disappointed that they didn’t get certain presents.  However, try to remember that disappointment is natural and okay. It doesn’t mean your child is ungrateful, it means that they are human and specifically, that they are children — with lesser-developed emotional control than adults.


Engaging Activities for Encouraging Gratitude

As Thanksgiving approaches, social networks are teeming with thankfulness activities for kids!  Teaching kids to be thankful is a challenge, but these fun games and activities help. We want our kids to view gratitude as a positive thing, not an obligation.  I love that these focus on why it’s important, and how our gratitude has a positive impact on other people. 

Thankfulness is part of our etiquette among social relationships.  The more we are grateful for their help, actions, or kindness, the more they feel their efforts were appreciated and worthwhile.  Gratitude generates a positive cycle and is especially essential when the less-fortunate need our assistance and are unable to return the favor.  That is where our kindness and empathy, founded by our gratitude, comes into play.  


We hope these suggestions for teaching thankfulness give you a few new ideas for your homeschool and help you and your family reflect on the deeper meaning of this holiday season!  


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