Ten tips to teach thankfulness

Ideas to help build an “attitude of gratitude” with your family.

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude with your children takes time and intention.
Cultivating an attitude of gratitude with your children takes time and intention.

‘Tis the season for Thanksgiving and gratitude. Being grateful, and thankful, takes practice, especially for young children who do not have a global perspective to view what they have or don’t have in relation to others. Michigan State University Extension offers the following 10 tips to build an attitude of gratitude in your children this Thanksgiving.

  1. Model grateful behavior. Tell your children thank you and notice the work they do. Provide encouragement for the process and effort put forward, saying things like, “You worked so hard on picking up your room! Thank you!” Children copy the behavior they see. You will be amazed how quickly they are saying “Thank you” when they hear you saying it to them.
  2. Have children help. Chores are a great way to teach children about the work and effort that goes into running their house. They take for granted that clean clothes reappear folded in their drawers and that there are cups available for milk whenever they want it. The more they contribute to their home, the more they will appreciate how much effort it takes to keep the household running. Provide your child with age-appropriate chores. Even toddlers can put clothes in the hamper and trash in the trashcan.
  3. Get them excited about giving. Many children at this time of year are thinking about the presents they are going to add to their wish list. Encourage your children to think beyond their “wants” and add a list of people they would like to thank this holiday season. Have your children think of ideas of gifts they could give or make for the special people on their list—their friends, cousins, teacher, bus driver, soccer coach or lunch helpers at school. As they get excited about making someone’s day brighter with a special gift, it will help them realize the thought and effort that goes into the gifts they receive.
  4. Help children understand gifts are thoughtful gestures. Similarly to the idea above, we want children to understand that gifts are not about “getting things,” but about someone showing they are thinking of you. It truly is the thought that counts. Talk to children about this concept, saying things like, “It was so kind of her to draw that picture for you, she must think you are a good friend.”
  5. Be thankful. Create a thankfulness routine, not just in November. Perhaps it’s every night before bed or on Friday’s at the dinner table. Find a time to ask children what they are thankful for and talk about gratitude and thanksgiving. Help children learn to pay attention to what they are thankful for in their life.
  6. Volunteer. Make volunteerism and giving back to your community a part of your family’s life. Adopt a family this holiday season, donate mittens to a mitten tree or take up a collection for canned goods. Go volunteer at the local animal shelter, soup kitchen or food pantry. Talk with your children about how they would like to give back; maybe there is something that is of particular interest to them.
  7. Teach where things come from. Go visit a farm or go on a factory tour. Teach children where their food and items come from. How much work went into that simple glass of milk? A cow has to be raised, cared for and fed, then milked. The milk has to be shipped and bottled, then delivered to the store. That’s a lot of steps to have milk on your cereal. A small garden at home can be a great tool to begin to show children the steps that go into food production.
  8. Practice makes perfect. Practice saying thank you and being polite. Practice opening up a silly gift and learning to say thank you no matter what is inside. “Oh, thank you for the toilet paper! That will come in very handy when I use the bathroom.” It can be a fun game, but it reinforces how to say thank you, even if the gift wasn’t what you were expecting.
  9. Make thank-you notes. Within a few days of receiving a gift, have your children create their own thank-you notes. These can be hand-colored pictures or short notes depending on your child’s age. Make sure they are sent out promptly.
  10. Create a gratitude jar. Take a moment to record all of the little things you are thankful for as they come up in life. “I’m thankful for Grandma’s delicious cookies.” “I’m grateful we won the soccer game.” Jot them down and add them to a jar. Designate a time to pull them out and review them with your family. It’s amazing all of the little moments you forget as time passes.

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude with your children takes time and intention. It can be easy in our busy lives to let little things like thank-you notes slip away. Take time to reinforce concepts of gratefulness and thanksgiving with your children today, and lay the framework for them to grow up grateful.

For more information about early childhood education and other topics, visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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