Teaching Our Kids Gratitude

Teaching Kids Gratitude

Have we become so busy with sports activities and mommy-and-me classes that we’ve somehow lost sight of one of life’s most important lessons—teaching our kids gratitude?

I recently asked myself this question when we were out to dinner and my daughter asked for ketchup from the waiter. After she got it, she chowed down without a “Thank you.”

For some reason that hit me hard. I was slightly embarrassed, but more than that, it was a wake-up call.

Those life lessons that we had focused on since toddlerhood may have somehow gotten pushed aside with our busy lives.

With Thanksgiving on the horizon, I think it’s the perfect time to regroup as a family and make a goal for ourselves—to mindfully practice being grateful.

Simple Steps to Teach Kids Gratitude

So, how do we teach our kids gratitude? Some of it—like with “pleases” and “thank yous”–is repetition.

Often times, it can take a concerted effort by parents to give kids the chance to practice actions that help them feel thankful.

Here are some of our favorite ways to help your kids be more grateful.

Show them examples of others practicing gratitude.

As parents, we lead by example. Thank the waiter. Thank someone when they hold the door. Give a Christmas gift and thank-you note to the mailman.

Books are another great way to give examples of others practicing gratitude. We love The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. For other ideas, check out this list we compiled of books to teach kids gratitude.

Keep a gratitude journal.

Each day, challenge your kids to find and write down something they are grateful for or lucky to have. The journal can be as simple as a notebook where they write down one phrase each day.

teaching kids gratitude

To mix things up, you can give them different prompts. For example: “Name two people in your life for whom you are grateful and tell why.” Or, “What is your favorite thing that you own? Who gave this item to you? Be sure to thank that person.”

By the end of the year, they can look back and see how blessed they have been. You can also find links to more formatted versions, on our Pinterest page.

Write thank-you notes.

Of course, it’s a great idea to write thank-you notes after a big occasion like a birthday party. But these gestures of gratitude don’t have to be reserved for gifts.

Encourage kids to write a friend a thank-you note for being a great pal. My daughter received a note in the mailbox a couple weeks ago from a friend who she was missing seeing since they ended up in different classrooms this school year. She had told me the day before, “I really miss seeing my friend and I can’t even find her at recess.” The note made her day!

Or occasionally, help your kids address a letter to grandma with a silly note or picture just for fun. Bonus: they get writing practice and can learn how to address an envelope.

Fill a gratitude jar. 

This is similar to the journal, but is a project the whole family can enjoy together. Put some sort of jar/container in a main area in the house. (To get started, your kids may enjoy decorating the container.)

Every day, each family member writes down something for which they are grateful and toss it in the jar.

At the end of the month, throw a gratitude party where you do a fun family activity (go out for ice cream, etc.) and read all of the things that people have written down.

Volunteer as a family.

Family service cultivates empathy and helps children really see their own personal good fortune and blessings.  

Volunteering as a family can also foster positive communication and strengthen bonds within your own household.

Some simple volunteer ideas that younger kids can help with include:

-Kids can help find and box up their gently used books and toys and donate them.

-Adopt a family at the holidays through church or a local business and shop for the items with the whole family.

-Make holiday cards and sing Christmas carols at a local nursing home. We’ve done this through Girl Scouts, but you can likely call ahead and do it on your own as well.

-Make giving part of your holiday tradition. MarbleSpark President Stacey Haussler and family annually make time to do bell ringing to benefit the Salvation Army. At Thanksgiving, they deliver meals to the homebound.

Gratitude Defined

Gratitude is an interesting thing. At its simplest, it is defined as “thankfulness.”

In psychology, it is actually classified as a social emotion, and often involves an action that benefits another as well as the giver.

One study–of more than a thousand people from ages eight to 80–found that people who practice gratitude benefit in a number of ways. In an article for Greater Good Magazine, researcher Robert Emmons broke down the benefits into three key areas:


  • Stronger immune systems
  • Less bothered by aches and pains
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Exercise more and take better care of their health
  • Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking


  • Higher levels of positive emotions
  • More alert, alive, and awake
  • More joy and pleasure
  • More optimism and happiness


  • More helpful, generous, and compassionate
  • More forgiving
  • More outgoing
  • Feel less lonely and isolated.

All in all, teaching kids gratitude will help others while also making your little people into happier, healthier humans.

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