How to Raise Thankful Kids

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Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays and it is right around the corner !!!! Why? No presents, or expectations – just a gathering of family and friends to celebrate all the blessings in our lives. On that one day, every year, we give thanks – thanks for all the wonderful things we have in our lives, thanks for the people in our lives.


But how do we teach our children to join in this thankfulness, not just at Thanksgiving but all year long? 

First of all, know that it’s going to take some work and it won’t happen overnight.

Research suggests that kids who are overindulged by their caregivers are more likely than other kids to grow into adults who are obsessed with fame, wealth, and attractiveness, who are less skilled, and who aren’t very conscientious or thoughtful.

To some degree, every kid is ungrateful, at least toward their parents, and that’s natural. Young children are focused on themselves but as they grow they can be trained to be thankful !!! Let’s look at some ways to “grow” thankful kids. 

Keep gifts reasonable. As tempting as it is to shower – or allow others to shower – your child with gifts, there are two important reasons not to. First, as children grow, it can be challenging to teach gratitude if they receive everything they ask for.

Secondly, a lot of gifts are overwhelming for small children. They can’t focus on or appreciate any one gift if they get so many. Often, they don’t even make it through opening all of them before they lose interest! Instead, you might suggest that family members choose 1 or 2 gifts for children. Explain that the fewer gifts, the more children will play with and appreciate them. If you are planning a large birthday party, consider asking close family members to bring gifts to a smaller event before the big one starts. For the big party, you might ask attendees to provide book donations for a local literacy programs or toys for disadvantaged children. This can be a good way to communicate the importance of giving and gratefulness.

Look for ways to be involved in community giving with your toddler. Between ages 2 and 3, you can begin to talk with your toddler about how he can help others who don’t have as much as he does. Look for opportunities with a clear connection between your child’s efforts and the recipients.  Good choices include:

1.) Helping dogs/cats at a local shelter. We are playing with these animals who need a lot of love and attention. 

2.) Collecting food for local food pantries. We are helping people who need food. They will eat the food we bring and they will be strong and healthy. 

3.) Collecting jackets, hats, and mittens for a local children’s program. The warm clothes we bring will help other children, like you, to stay warm this winter. 

Show thankfulness to your children. It’s easy to forget, but important to do. Thank you for cooperating at the doctor’s office. Thank you for getting your jacket when I asked. Thank you for coming right away when I said it was time to leave the park; I know it was hard for you to get off the swing. Thank you for your hug—it made me feel so happy!

Prompt children to use thankful words. Thankfulness is a complex idea. It will be a while yet before your child truly “gets” it. But reminding children to say “please” and “thank you” (beginning at about 18 months) is a good start. Because it will take some time for them to learn when to use these words, you’ll probably be providing prompts for a while.

Read books about what it means to be thankful. Books help children make sense of new ideas. Keep in mind that your child’s understanding of a book at 14 months will be different than what they get out of it at 35 months—another good reason to share these stories over time. As they grow, talk with them about the stories and pictures and explore what it means to be “thankful.” Check out these great books to begin your “thankful journey.”

Involve children in writing thank-you notes. While you can’t sit your young child down with a pen and a stack of cards, you can involve her in showing thanks in age-appropriate ways. Snap a photo of your baby or toddler playing with a new toy or wearing a new outfit and include it with your thank you note. Ask your toddler to draw a picture for the gift-giver and, again, include with your note. Copy down your child’s words in the note you write. Toddlers can also be involved in sticking a stamp on the envelope and putting the note in the mailbox. Starting early makes this important tradition of gratitude an everyday part of children’s lives.

Start traditions for showing thanks. These traditions give children a lifetime memory of gratefulness and giving in the context of family. Some ideas:

1.) Make a “what I am thankful for” tree. Use a paper towel tube for the trunk. Cut leaf shapes out of construction paper and write on each leaf something your child says he is thankful for. Glue the paper leaves onto the tube/trunk. Ideally, every family member who is old enough to participate should make a tree each year.

2.) Begin dinnertime once a week with every family member saying something they are grateful for.


3.) Instead of a birthday gifts, write your child an “appreciation letter” describing all the different ways your child has grown and changed that year, and all the things you love and appreciate about him.  These letters, beginning in each child’s first year, can be kept in a special binder in children’s rooms.

Think about what it means to be thankful in your family and culture. Share stories about gratefulness that are drawn from your family history, community and culture. For example, one family tells their son a story about his grandmother who, during the Great Depression, once received only an orange for Christmas but “it was the sweetest orange she ever had and she was so grateful.” Each year, along with his other gifts, the son receives an orange as well.

So enjoy your Thanksgiving this year and start teaching your children about keeping that thankfulness all year-long. 



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