Simple Ways to Teach Children to Be Grateful
“Mommy, you’re supposed to say ‘You’re Welcome.’ When I say ‘Thank You’…you say that. Okay?” It’s conversations like this one with my 4-year-old son that remind me, no matter how crappy I’d been at handling the hectic morning routine, that sometimes I make good parenting decisions. Raising grateful children is important to me. My parents instilled this character trait in me and it’s one of those virtues that positively impacts all areas of life – from work to home to friendships.
What I’ve learned about teaching children to be grateful is that it’s a long, slow process and is mostly about consistency and persistence. As we head into the “I want this. I want that.” season, I hope that some of these simple everyday lessons hold up.
Simple Ways to Raise Grateful Children
• Model Gratefulness. You are your children’s most important role model. Using grateful language and positive reinforcement is a great way to show children how to be grateful. “The playroom looks great with all your toys put away. I’m so happy you cleaned up!”
• Say Please, Thank You, You’re Welcome. Since the kids were little, I always used these words for both small and big things. In fact, I’m sure I overdid it but I’m convinced it’s made a difference. Now, these words have become an important part of our family’s language.
• Share Appreciation Daily. During family dinners, we talk about our days and anything new going on in our world. I often ask the kids “what’s something good that happened today?” For the Thanksgiving & holiday season, I’m thinking it’s a good idea to switch it up: “What’s something nice you did for someone? Or, what’s something nice someone did for you?”
• Encourage “Eye Contact” Thank You’s during Gift-Giving Holidays. My kids love presents and can quickly tear through a pile during birthdays, Christmas, etc. During these times, I encourage them to pause between presents and personally “thank” the gift giver, including making eye contact and acknowledging the person personally.
• Make Thank You Notes or Cards. I also think it’s nice for children to make “thank you” notes for gifts received during special occasions. For little kids, it could mean putting a sticker or making a scribble on a card that I wrote. As they get older, they can take a more leadership role. In fact, my daughter recently wrote her own “thank you” birthday notes and I was thrilled to see how she drew custom pictures for each friend based on how she knew the friend (soccer, dance, school, etc). It was such a nice personal touch that I never would have thought of!
• Volunteer or Do a Charity Project. Being members of different groups – school, sports, church, etc. – we have a lot of opportunities to help the needy. I make sure to involve the children in the service projects. We often talk about why we are doing the project – why people may need Thanksgiving food, why gloves & hats are important to give to less fortunate families, why we are donating money to the hospital, etc.
• Set Shopping Expectations. Whenever we are going somewhere – from a toy store to a grocery store to a museum – it’s important to set shopping goals and expectations. My kids are kids – they ask for everything. It’s so much easier when I make it clear what our shopping goals are. “Today, we are getting a present for your friend’s birthday at the toy store. If you see something you want, you can write it on your birthday/holiday list.”
• Be Patient, Consistent & Persistent. Children are concrete thinkers. Gratitude is a character trait that takes time to develop. With some patience and persistence, however, you’ll be on the road to raising a grateful child.
- E-family news article: Teaching Integrity: Raising Children with Character & Principle
- E-family news article: Teaching Children Good Manners & Behaviors
- Family Matters parenting webinar: Growing Givers: Raising Socially Responsible Children
- Find Family Room blog posts about social responsibility & kindness