As parents, we often feel a moral obligation to raise our children to be kind and considerate people. Teaching gratitude is one impactful way to ensure that children spread love and kindness throughout their lives and into their adulthood, and this is a lesson that can begin very early on. Many parents wonder how to teach their children gratitude – especially during the toddler days of “mine” and “no” being the most common words spoken. Below, we’ve broken down some tips to help parents navigate the valuable life lesson of teaching kids gratitude and some important reminders to apply when doing so.
Tips for Teaching Kids Gratitude
It is important to note that most toddlers aren’t developmentally able to share until at least the age of three or four, so if your toddler is showing signs of greediness then rest assured that this is to be expected. Toddlers have to exercise their right to say “no” every once in a while since little aspects of their lives actually are in their control.
When it comes to teaching your child to be inclusive and grateful, have some patience and try to remain aware of what is developmentally expected at their age. However, there still are some helpful steps you can take to help your child understand the concept of gratitude. Here are a few of our top recommendations.
1. Lead by Example
At some point early on, you will start to realize that your child is essentially your little shadow. Kids like to follow their parents around and copy what they do. This is how young children learn social skills and how to react in certain situations. Children can even learn aggressive behavior by watching those around them or by witnessing it on TV, so make sure you’re aware of what your kids are observing. Keeping this concept in mind is incredibly important when raising little people because it helps remind parents of the importance of being good people themselves in order to teach their children to do the same. But remember, we can’t be perfect, so have some patience with yourself.
Lead by example by practicing gratitude yourself. Say a blessing before eating your meals together, pay it forward by helping someone less fortunate, or talk to your child about how grateful you feel to spend time with them. Look for ways to incorporate gratitude into your daily conversations with your child. Also to note, these conversations can begin very early on. Young babies love when their parents talk to them – yes, even if they have no idea what you’re saying! So why not start the conversation about gratitude ASAP?
2. Incorporate Faith-Based Teaching
If you practice a religion, then incorporating gratitude into your religious teachings is a great way to help children grasp this concept. Depending on your religion, you can incorporate gratitude into bible study, prayer, or just daily conversations surrounding faith. By tying gratitude in with your religious practice, you can make it more of a routine to help reinforce the concept for your children.
3. Give Back Regularly
As your child gets older, you can start teaching them about paying it forward and helping others. Try to make it a habit to give back to your community on a regular basis and talk with your child about it each time. This may look like bringing your child along to go volunteer at a local homeless shelter, picking up trash at your local park or beach, or providing a meal for one of your neighbors. By making random acts of kindness a common practice within your home, you can normalize this type of generous behavior for your children. Giving some of what you have to offer to others can also help your children understand that they have a lot to appreciate themselves, further ingraining the message of gratitude.
4. Teach Through Age-Appropriate Plays and Books
One of the best ways to get a message across to a child is to teach and communicate to them in an age-appropriate manner. This may mean incorporating gratitude teaching into their playtime or reading time. Look for opportunities to teach gratitude while playing with your child by saying “please” and “thank you.” Recognize your child’s positive behaviors, such as sharing, and acknowledge your appreciation.
5. Appreciate the Little Things
It is important to show children that there is always a reason to be grateful. Teach them this by showing appreciation for the little things in life. Anytime you notice an awe-inspiring moment, such as a beautiful sunset or the way trees blow in the wind, point it out to your child to help them see it themselves. Having food on the table, a roof over your head, and a comfortable bed to lay your head at night are all reasons to feel grateful – make sure your children are aware of this.
Books that Teach Gratitude
Reading is a fun way for parents and children to bond by offering the opportunity to learn and grow together. Reading books about gratitude is a great way to teach this valuable lesson to your child because it breaks the concept down into wording that your child will understand and offers reinforcement since you can re-read books regularly. Below, we’ve listed a few of our top recommendations for children’s books that can help with teaching kids gratitude.
Gratitude is My Superpower: A Children’s Book about Giving Thanks and Practicing Positivity
This sweet children’s book can be read to children of all ages and even features a gratitude journal in the back for older kids. Gratitude is My Superpower teaches children the importance of taking a look at their lives and appreciating everything they already have – an invaluable lesson for everyone.
The Seed of Compassion: Lessons from the Life and Teachings of His Holiness Dalai Lama
This children’s book is designed for ages 4 through 8 years old and teaches lessons of compassion and peace in the context of the story of His Holiness Dalai Lama. The Seed of Compassion aims to help children find the important life lessons that already exist around us and shows children that even the Dalai Lama experienced typical childhood challenges, such as hiding from teachers and just wanting to play.
The Boy with the Big, Big Feelings
The Boy with the Big, Big Feelings tells the story of a little boy who tries to hide his heavy emotions and feelings by pushing them away. He later learns to accept himself and appreciate who he is by embracing his big feelings. This book can help children embrace their authentic selves and find an appreciation for all of their big feelings, even those that can be uncomfortable at times.
How Grizzly Found Gratitude
Help children see the beauty all around them with How Grizzly Found Gratitude. This children’s book tells the story of a wandering grizzly bear who feels lost and alone. After crossing paths with a bird and her friends, he learns to see all of the beauty that surrounds him, feeling appreciation for the big and small blessings in his life.
Raising Good Humans: A Mindful Guide to Breaking the Cycle of Reactive Parenting and Raising Kind, Confident Kids
If you’re a reader yourself and you’re looking for a parent’s guide to teaching gratitude, then this book is for you. Raising Good Humans helps parents to get away from the reactive style of parenting that many of us were raised around. This book helps parents with choosing mindful responses in difficult situations and provides some insight on respectful communication with children. It’s no secret that our children test us regularly. By learning how to respond to these situations with love and compassion, we can help our children choose kindness and gratitude when they face challenges as well.
How Do You Explain Gratitude to a Child? An Age-Appropriate Guide
When it comes to teaching kids gratitude, you’ll want to make sure you’re communicating in a way that they will actually understand. These loose guidelines can be kept in mind when communicating to children of varying ages, but you know your child best, so their ideal learning style is likely something you will be able to navigate better with time.
Infants and Toddlers
It is never too early to start talking to your baby. Talking to a baby can help them develop their own social skills and make them feel loved. Start talking with your child about love and gratitude from as early as the newborn days. As your child moves into toddlerhood, they’ll start to understand you a bit better as they develop communication skills of their own. When you feel like your child is learning to talk more, you can start encouraging them to say “please” and “thank you” when necessary. Toddlers also might start to engage in pretend play with dolls or stuffed animals. This offers a great opportunity to incorporate gratitude into their playtime.
Preschool to Elementary Age
Preschool age is a great time to start educating children about sharing since this is around the time when most kids start to engage in associative play (playing with other children rather than just playing alongside them). Sharing and gratitude go hand-in-hand. When your child demonstrates sharing behaviors, tell them how grateful you are for their giving behavior.
Teenagers and Up
Once kids get into their teenage years, you can really start to see if your efforts to teach gratitude have taken effect. This is a good time to bring kids along for volunteer activities since they have a stronger sense of awareness, helping them appreciate where they come from and what they have. Encouraging teenagers to get a part-time job is another effective way to teach gratitude since it can show them the importance of working to get what they want, rather than having everything handed to them.
Teaching kids gratitude is just one of the many ways that parents and teachers work to raise good people and put more kindness and love into the world. Don’t take the lesson of gratitude for granted but remember that teaching this important lesson doesn’t have to be a big challenge. By incorporating gratitude into your day-to-day practice, you can normalize the concept for your children and even start to feel a stronger sense of gratitude yourself.