Teaching Kids about Gratitude

Mom and son holding a plant

I think most parents are like me—we don’t want our kids to grow up with a sense of entitlement. We want to teach our children gratitude. When they’re barely walking, we teach them to say, “thank you.” But pretty soon, they’re also saying “more” and “MINE.”

Where the heck does that even come from?

Inspired? Create and share by tagging @HallmarkStores.

We quickly realize they’re going to be little jerks if we don’t instill some of that gratitude. Bonus: Research shows an attitude of gratitude is healthy. Practicing thankfulness increases mental strength and improves psychological health.

It turns out gratitude is so much more than saying “thank you” or sending a note. It’s a way of living. So here are a few things we do in an attempt to (hopefully!) teach our children to be grateful for what they have.

Speaking of thank-you notes, here’s some advice about getting kids to write them.

Talk to kids about gratitude  

Okay, I know “talks” are kids’ least favorite things—my tween would rather lose her internet connection than “have a discussion.” The answer is to keep it casual.

I searched online for quotes about gratitude. Every few days, I hung up a new one in the house. And while making dinner, I’d ask our girls what they thought it meant. How do they interpret the quote? Do they agree? It so often led to meaningful conversations and opportunities for teaching and opening up. And I think you’ll find that your kids have some pretty great opinions and insights.

Download our free printable gratitude conversation starters.

Show kids how to express appreciation  

Aside from gratitude for material things, it’s important to teach kids to be grateful for the love, affection and people in their lives. Being quarantined has been challenging for us—all at home together, all the time. But it’s also opened up opportunities for conversations about how lucky we are (and how grateful we should be) to have not only a comfy, air-conditioned home to live in, but also to have a family to laugh with, cuddle and play games with. A few ways to show gratitude to the loved ones in your lives:

  • Tell them. Spend time drawing pictures or writing cards or notes to send to family and friends. Be sure to say why you’re grateful for them.
  • Send love. Think of people you know who might be lonely or people you don’t talk to or see often. Write them a note just to say they’re on your mind. Encourage kids to send photos or a list of jokes or funny stories, too—anything that might brighten their day.
  • Write cards and letters. There are plenty of folks who are deserving of gratitude these days—from health care professionals to grocery store workers and delivery folks to teachers. We’ve got tips for sending messages of appreciation.

Make these adorable mini-mailboxes to encourage sending notes between family members.

Keep a family gratitude journal  

Sure, journaling might sound like just one more thing mom needs to get done. But this one is done together, so it checks the “quality time” box, too. Any notebook works—simply write down the date and something each member of the family is grateful for. It can be small (“The mail came on time and we have a lovely mail carrier!”) or big (“We are all healthy.”).

For fun, include pets: “Our cat Betsy is consistently grateful for dropped food at dinner.”

Model grateful behavior  

You are your kids’ greatest example (that’s a big yikes for me sometimes), so consistently demonstrate gratitude in your own life. If we’re gonna talk the talk, we’ve gotta walk the walk, right? So, let’s strut it!

  • Don’t forget to say “thank you” at the drive-through window, “I appreciate it” to people who help you out and give a “thanks!” wave to other drivers who let you over in traffic.
  • Look for ways to turn grumbles into moments of thanks. For example, when washing a sink full of dirty dishes (again), verbally express gratitude for hot, clean running water and plenty of food to eat on those dishes.
  • When something goes wrong or doesn’t work out, try to find the good in the situation (admittedly, this can be tough). If you’re running late because of traffic, point out that you’re grateful to be safe and in a reliable car with plenty of gas.

It can be easy to lose sight of all the good we have in our lives—and just as easy to rattle off a long list of complaints. But I know most parents will agree that gratitude is an incredibly important virtue and so valuable in ensuring our children lead full and happy lives.

We’re all just doing the best we can raising these little beings. And I hope my kids grow up grateful for the lives they’ve had