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Gratitude for Kids: Teaching Kids to be Truly Thankful

Learn how to teach gratitude for kids with these easy gratitude activities and ideas, because a thankful child is a happy child!

Do you silently cringe when your kids open gifts at a birthday party or Christmas time? Praying that they’re going to be gracious and remember to say “Thank you”, even if they don’t get exactly what they wanted?

Yup, teaching kids gratitude can be difficult, especially if your children are younger and the only thing that matters to them is getting just the right Barbie doll.

But having an appreciative attitude, and teaching your kids to be thankful, is incredibly important.

Here are some tips for teaching gratitude to kids and some awesome gratitude activities to try:

Why You Should Raise Your Kids to be Grateful

Other than the more obvious reason that grateful kids feel less of a sense of entitlement and are, therefore, more pleasant to be around, it’s also important to teach your kids to be appreciative because it’s actually good for their health.

Studies have shown that people who are grateful and take the time to express their gratitude experience the following benefits:

  • greater sense of optimism
  • higher self-esteem
  • reduced feelings of envy
  • less of a self-centered attitude
  • improvements to health and sleep quality
  • reduced levels of stress
  • increase in energy
  • plus many more benefits relating to work, productivity, and social interactions!
"Thanks" written on kids hands

How to Teach Kids Gratitude

It’s one thing to talk about raising your kids to be grateful, but it’s another thing to actually instill an “attitude of gratitude” in your children. Trust me… I know… I’m a Momma, too.

Here are some tips for teaching kids gratitude:

Show your kids what it means to be grateful.

PositivePsychology.com says

The best teachers of gratitude are practitioners of gratitude.

Kelly Miller, BA, CAPP

Kids are like sponges… they soak up everything around them.  If you’ve ever let a bad 4 letter word slip out, only to hear your child say the same 4 letter word a few days later, then you know what I’m talking about!

So it’s important to model the type of behavior that we want our kids to mimic.  And if you want your kids to be grateful, then show them daily examples of what it means to have an attitude of gratitude.

Some super easy ways to teach gratitude through modeling are:

  • Being polite to waiters when you go out to eat… Say “Thanks so much!” when your drink is refilled, or when the hostess seats you at your table.
  • Say “Thank you!” to the cashier at McDonald’s.
  • Give small gifts of appreciation to your mailman or your child’s bus driver. These holiday snack baskets for delivery drivers are also great!
  • Keep a gratitude journal for yourself to show your children that you, too, are intentional about practicing gratitude.
  • Donate a dollar or two to charity or “round up” at retail stores or restaurants when asked.

Teach kids about the value of a dollar.

Most younger kids can’t really comprehend the difference between one dollar, five dollars, or fifty dollars. All they know is that they want “insert hot toy of the month here“, and they don’t care how much it costs or how many hours you have to work to pay for it.

But if your kids actually had to help around the house to earn money to pay for those special “wants”, then they would probably feel a much greater sense of appreciation for those things, knowing that they earned them.

A good chore chart and allowance system is a great way to teach kids about the value of a dollar and managing their money.

printable chore cards that say make lunch for school and put clothes in hamper

My own daughters get a weekly allowance that they save in my favorite allowance tracker app until they have enough accumulated to buy what they want. And often times when they ask for a particular toy when we’re out shopping together and I tell them “Sure, if you pay for it with your own money”, then they quickly change their minds and decide that they don’t actually want it… which is good for Mom’s pocketbook, too!

Bottom line: If you teach your kids about working hard for what they want, they’ll feel a greater sense of accomplishment and appreciate those things more. I’ve seen this firsthand with my 11 year old and the AirPod Pro earbuds that she saved up to buy herself.

Do family service projects to show kids how fortunate they are.

Some kids may not fully understand just how fortunate they are, which makes teaching gratitude difficult.

If your child PLUS all of his or her friends have the newest, coolest Playstation, then they could think that it’s the norm, when in reality, they are super blessed to have parents that can afford to buy such a gift.

When I was in middle school, my parents took my siblings and I to the Dominican Republic. We packed suitcases full of kids’ clothing, shoes, and small toys and we spent our vacation driving from village to village distributing the items to the local children. The sheer and genuine joy on their faces when they received a new shirt or soccer ball is something that shaped my grateful attitude early on in life.

But you don’t need to hop on a plane to instill the same attitudes in your own children. There are probably a TON of needy families and organizations that you can help right in your own city!

From food banks to homeless shelters to children’s homes, you’re sure to find somewhere to volunteer your time and show your kids just how fortunate they are.

Set up routines that encourage gratitude for kids.

You can’t expect your kids to remember to be gracious if you don’t practice gratitude regularly in your home, so if you want to teach kids gratitude you need to set up daily routines that reinforce it.

From saying a dinner time prayer in which you thank God for a specific thing that happened that day to teaching kids to always say “Thank you”, there are a wide variety of everyday instances that you can use to teach kids to be thankful.

Here are some ways to teach gratitude to kids through repetitive routines:

  • On the way home from school every day, discuss what happened that day that made your child feel grateful.
  • Say grace at dinner and thank God for your many blessings.
  • Have your child write in a gratitude journal each day. You can check out my free printable gratitude journal for kids down below!
  • Talk about what your child is grateful for each night when you’re tucking them in to bed.
  • Teach kids to say “Thank you” for EVERYTHING, whether it’s someone holding the door open for them or the bank teller giving them a lollipop.

Have kids donate some of their clothes, shoes, and toys to those in need.

Chances are if you’re reading this post on a $1,000 laptop computer or the latest iPhone, you’re blessed… and so are your kids. Which means they probably have way too many toys, shoes, and clothes.

And while having a lot is not something to be ashamed of (especially if you worked hard to provide those things for your family), it is an opportunity to teach kids about those less fortunate through the act of giving.

boy holding a box of toys labeled donations

Involve your kids in the process of sorting through their toys and clothes and setting aside some items to donate to a church or charity. While you may be tempted to sneakily add forgotten toys to the donation bin just to clear your home of clutter, you’re missing an important teachable moment in doing so.

As you go through your child’s belongings with him or her, explain that other boys and girls that don’t have as many toys will be so excited to receive the gifts. I also like to tell my daughters that we are so blessed, and we should be so grateful for everything that we have, and that it’s a privilege to be able to give to others.

Teach contentment, not comparison.

Theodore Roosevelt once said,

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Theodore Roosevelt

And if you think about it, that simple quote holds so much truth. In a world of social media and YouTube, it’s easy for your kids to compare themselves to others and feel like what they have (or what they look like) isn’t good enough.

I have been telling my daughters this for years:

“There will always be someone that has more than you, and there will always be someone that has less than you.”

I tell them that it’s important to be thankful for what they do have, and if they want more in life, they’ll need to work for it instead of feeling sorry for themselves or simply being envious.

Which brings me to the next tip for teaching kids gratitude…

Get rid of the “Poor Me” mentality.

Have you ever heard your kids say something like:

  • “This always happens to me.”
  • “Life is so unfair.”
  • “She always gets the recognition and I do just as much work as she does.”
  • “I’m always looked over.”
  • “Everybody has a nicer backpack than me.”
  • “He has a Nintendo Switch and I don’t.”

A person with a “Poor Me” attitude considers themselves to be a constant victim, and is often focused on what they don’t have instead of what they do have.

If you notice that your kids are making themselves out to be the victim or exhibiting signs of self-pity, then help them to flip their attitude… turn their frown upside down, if you will… and help them focus on their many blessings instead.

Don’t forget about the small things to be grateful for.

Being thankful for the “big things” in life, like a new bike or a trip to the amusement park, is easy to teach. But it’s important that your kids are thankful for things that they probably take for granted also, like the fact that they get to wake up in their very own bed everyday or that they have more than one pair of shoes in their closet.

Remember that there is always something to be grateful for, like:

  • being able to pay the electric bill on time each month
  • having the means to get McDonald’s for lunch when you want it
  • your family’s health
  • having clean water to drink
  • having a variety of food in your fridge
  • access to education

These small blessings are often overlooked, but you should teach kids to be grateful for those things also.

The Best Kids Gratitude Activities

Want to know what gratitude activities for kids work best? Here are some easy ideas to help you reinforce a gratitude attitude in your children:

text overlay that says 8 of the best gratitude activities to teach your kids that they are so blessed

*This post contains affiliate links, which means if you click a link and make a purchase, I earn a commission at no additional cost to you (and I’ll be super grateful!). Read my full disclosure here.

Write “Thank You” notes after receiving gifts.

Writing thank you notes is one of the easiest gratitude activities for kids and it’s a great way for kids to express their gratitude for tangible gifts they are given.

Birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, even money from the Tooth Fairy, can all warrant a “Thank You” note to teach kids to be grateful. Even if your kids are too young to write out a full note on their own, you can have them draw a picture or use a fill-in-the-blank style Thank You card.

Have your kids keep a Gratitude Journal.

Studies have shown that keeping a gratitude journal has a multitude of benefits on your overall well-being and outlook on life. And the same thing goes for your kids!

A kids’ gratitude journal is a GREAT way to remind your children of everything that they have to be thankful for. It’s easy for young kids especially to take certain things for granted, so actually writing down blessings in a gratitude journal each day can highlight those things that are not necessarily givens.

You can check out this post for more on Kids’ Gratitude Journals and grab a FREE printable journal!

daily gratitude journal for kids printable pages

Start a Gratitude Jar.

A Gratitude Jar is a great way to teach kids gratitude throughout the year, plus it can serve as a fun time capsule of sorts.

Just grab an old mason jar, and cut out a bunch of slips of paper. Then, at the end of every day, have your kids write one thing that happened that day that made them feel thankful. Maybe they got an “A” on their spelling test, or it was “Free Dessert” day at school.

Then, put the piece of paper into the Gratitude Jar. On Thanksgiving, or even at the end of every month, take turns drawing a “gratitude note” out of the jar and read it aloud.

Write letters expressing gratitude to community workers.

So many people do tough but thank-less jobs, from police officers to mail delivery people. It’s important to encourage kids to remember those community helpers and to be thankful for the jobs they do.

child writing a letter

You can have kids write notes or draw pictures for:

  • the mailman or package delivery people
  • veterans
  • police officers
  • firefighters
  • teachers
  • crossing guards
  • front office workers at their schools
  • garbage pickup people

You can also bake some sweet treats to give to these community workers to go along with the thank you notes!

Add daily reflection to your nighttime routine.

Your kids’ bedtime routine is a great time to sneak in some extra gratitude. When you’re tucking your kids in at night, you can take a few minutes to sit with them and talk about what happened that day that made them feel grateful.

Make a Gratitude Tree.

Although a “gratitude tree” is often associated with Thanksgiving, you can still make one to use year round.

Here are a few ideas for making your own gratitude tree:

  • Pick some branches out of your yard and put them in a large vase. Then, make paper leaves with string to hang on the branches. On each paper leaf, write something that you’re thankful for.
  • Print a gratitude tree template for kids and make trees out of construction paper.
  • Draw a gratitude tree on a chalkboard or dry erase board and hang it near your family command center.

This is a great visual reminder to be grateful everyday.

Read books about gratitude for kids.

Books that teach kids gratitude are a great tool because they allow you to get in some important reading time each day AND they help to reinforce thankfulness.

Here are a few of the best gratitude books for kids that you can read during bedtime:

Pick out a gift for the Angel Tree or send an Operation Christmas Child gift box.

Buying gifts for those in need each Christmas is one of the best gratitude activities to show kids how fortunate they truly are, and it’s a GREAT activity to work into your family Christmas traditions.

Have your kids go to the store with you to select a few toys to take home and wrap for a needy child, and while you’re doing so, explain to your kids that not every child gets to wake up to a bunch of presents under their Christmas tree.

Conclusion

Most kids are taught to say “please” and “thank you” at an early age, but expressing gratitude goes far beyond saying “thanks” when you receive a gift or someone holds the door open for you.

To teach kids about gratitude, you need to reinforce the idea that gratitude is an actual feeling that can be expressed through acts of service, general outlook on life, and the treatment of others.

What about you? How do you teach your own kids to be thankful? Leave me a comment down below!

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One Comment

  1. Interesting post Amy! I loved it <3
    Being grateful truly improves the quality of life, from your mental health and wellness to your emotional fortitude. If you feel extra tired to get up and make accomplishments with your day, you should stop this attitude by identifying the things you are still grateful for.

    Thanks,

    Cheers
    Doris