How Can I Teach My Kids Gratitude?

by Katie Hurley

It always amazes me how much happiness children gain from everyday moments; it truly is the little things that bring the biggest smiles to their faces. And yet, gratitude can be hard to teach.

Kids, by design, are impulsive. They are constantly learning and changing, and new ideas seem to pop up by the minute. They are exposed to advertising just about everywhere, even if you do rely on the DVR or DVD’s. They hear about new exciting adventures and toys from their friends and they just have to have them. Right now! And for a minute, they love that item or adventure, until the next big thing comes along. It’s exhausting, really.

Showing gratitude every minute of every day just isn’t part of what kids do. It’s not that they don’t appreciate what they have and who they are, it’s just that they are always learning and processing and soaking up information. It’s our job to slow them down and teach them to be thankful for what they have. It’s our job to capitalize on the small moments and help our kids stay grounded. It’s our job to model the gratitude that we want our kids to demonstrate each day. Nagging won’t do the trick; that will just send them running.

What should you do? Here are some easy places to start…

1. The Happiness Jar: When kids become bored, frustrated, or feel like they don’t have what they really need in life, it can be useful to stop and think about what they do have. What you need: A large glass jar and a stack of index cards. In a moment of calm, ask your kids to name the things that make them feel happy. Write one happy statement on each index card and place them in a large glass jar. Place the jar in a prominent place and reach in and grab a happy statement when life starts to feel overwhelming or unfair. Talk about why that makes everyone happy. It might be playing cars, walks on the beach, or chasing butterflies that makes your children happy on any given day. Sometimes they just need a gentle reminder that they can do any of these things. For that, they can be thankful.

2. Three Good Things: Bedtime is a great time to decompress and check in with your kids. It’s also a great time to talk about gratitude. Ask your child to identify three good things in her life as she goes to sleep. Keep a journal by her bed so that you can write them down and revisit them during the day. You will probably find that family, mommy & daddy, and favorite toys make the list often. Many kids tend to think about these things as they end the day. Having them verbalize it shows them that it feels good to go to sleep feeling happy and thankful.

3. Collect Coins: It’s no secret that kids love coins. They like to play with them, hoard them, fill their banks with them, and throw them in fountains. Create a special coin collection jar. Have your kids put a few coins in the jar each week. When the jar is full, talk about local charities where they can donate the coins. Better yet, find a fountain that donates the coins to a local food bank or some other charity and make it a fun outing. Be sure to explain where they money goes and how it helps other people. Kids (even toddlers) take great pride in helping others.

4. Pick a Stick: Do you ever feel like your kids are constantly looking for something to do despite shelves of books and toys? It can be tempting to start listing the things they should be grateful for, but this doesn’t actually teach a lesson. Sometimes kids just need visuals. Make a list of fun family activities and toys and games the kids have at their disposal. Make use of those extra craft sticks by writing one activity on the end of each stick. Flip the sticks over and ask your child to pick one. Flip the stick back over to see what activity the family should do next! Sometimes a simple game to make things fun reminds our children that wonderful things are all around us.

5. Small Moments Photo Book: I love to take pictures of our fun little moments each day. When I flip through the pictures at the end of the day, I always feel incredibly grateful for what I have. Why not give our kids the same experience? Give your child the iPhone camera (or another camera) and let her document what makes her happy each day. Compile the pictures into simple photo books so that she can look back and feel grateful too. Warning: You might end up with 11 pictures of Easter chicks and 37 pictures of a “rock museum”.

How do you teach gratitude in your home?