The Thanksgiving season is a great time for teaching gratitude to young children. Throughout the month of November, take time to talk with your child about what it means to be grateful. Note that being grateful is about more than just saying thank you–it’s about appreciating the big and small things that bring us happiness, make our world a better place, and remind us that others care about us.
Here are four steps parents can take to begin teaching gratitude to even our youngest children:
- Read and Talk about Gratitude: Before kids can express gratitude, they need to begin to understand what it is in a way that is relatable to their world. While the word gratitude, or even conversations about it, can be abstract for young children, there are tangible and meaningful ways to introduce the sentiment of being thankful to your child.
You might read books that talk explicitly about teaching gratitude, such as Todd Parr’s The Thankful Book–a story that provides a preschool-friendly understanding of all that kids might be thankful for including walks, friends, and even bubble baths. You might also look for examples of kindness in other picture books and talk about how the characters help one another. These initial steps activate children’s ability to understand gratitude and set the stage for them to recognize it in their world.
- Notice Joyful Moments and Acts of Kindness: In the hurried hustle and bustle of everyday life with young children, it is easy to forget to pause and consider all that we have to be grateful for in our world. By focusing our energy on recognizing the good things that we have and the kindness of those around us, we fostering feelings of happiness and teaching gratitude. This intentional act of noticing can be powerful for young children, too.
Throughout your day-to-day life, share your feelings of thankfulness aloud with your child, and encourage them to look for and notice things that make their day better. With your child, you might talk about how you appreciate the warm sunshine of a beautiful day or a pretty butterfly at the park. Share out loud why these things make you happy or your day better.
You might also point out acts of kindness or service that you encounter with your child. Notice hardworking volunteers at school, someone who thoughtfully holds a door for you when your hands are full, the friendly cashier at the grocery store, or a kind friend who helps your child when they fall at the park. Take the time to identify and describe the person’s kindness to your child and talk together about how their actions help others.
For ideas to inspire these conversations, check out this article from the University of California, Berkeley’s “Greater Good” Magazine that explains how to start teaching gratitude to children and includes questions to ask them as you work to foster gratitude.
- Model & Outwardly Express Thankfulness: Children naturally watch the adults around them and learn behaviors from them. This even includes more subtle ways of communicating that you might not realize your child is observing and learning from. With that in mind, simply showing gratitude throughout your day can have a big impact on your child’s recognition and expressions of gratitude.
When something nice happens in your day or as you encounter kind acts, share your appreciation with those around you with words recognizing the kind deed, a thoughtful note, or a reciprocal gesture of kindness. Let your child see your expressions of gratitude.
You can also help your child find ways to express their gratitude. For younger children, you might encourage them to say, “thank you,” or wave with appreciation as you share words of thanks. For preschoolers, you might prompt them to say thank you and to share what they are thankful for. And young children of all ages can draw and share a picture to say thank you. These various actions get kids in the habit of identifying and expressing gratitude and work to build a foundation for a deeper understanding of gratitude as they grow older.
- Build a Family Culture of Gratitude: To further deepen your child’s understanding of gratitude, consider involving the entire family. When young children are regularly surrounded by words of appreciation, sentiments of gratitude, and an overall recognition of kindness, they begin to independently notice positive elements of their world or helpful actions from others.
As a family, use November as a springboard for acknowledging joyful parts of your life and kindness from others. Find a way to collect notes and pictures of things you are thankful for during the month of November; you might start a family gratitude journal, jar of appreciation, or a gratitude pumpkin.
For other creative ideas about how to teach gratitude, visit Melissa and Doug’s blog post, “The Family Kitchen: 5 Activities For Teaching Children Gratitude.” At the end of the month, take time to re-read and talk about what your family has noted throughout the month and reflect on all that you have to be grateful for. Embedding gratitude into family traditions can extend these expressions of appreciation well beyond the Thanksgiving season.