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7 Thankful Tips For Teaching Kids About Gratitude

7 Thankful Tips For Teaching Kids About Gratitude

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Easy positive parenting tips offer advice on teaching kids about gratitude and thankfulness during the holidays. These simple ideas cover the basics without guilt, with a focus on being thankful.

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This article originally published December 13th, 2017 and has been updated and republished.

Teaching Kids About Gratitude

What better time to discuss gratitude and thankfulness during the holidays? With four children to raise, I’m constantly worried that I’m raising unappreciative brats! Not that my kids aren’t well-behaved and courteous in public, because they are.

But at home, the “attitude of gratitude” is another story. There is a streak of entitlement running rampant and I want to nip that in the bud!

Thankfulness During the Holidays

My mom’s group at church discussed how to raise grateful children and it got my wheels turning. Am I doing enough with my four kids to teach them gratitude and thankfulness during the holidays (and year-round for that matter)?

And what about good manners? Don’t those go hand in hand? Of course saying, “Thank you” is important, but I think that true gratitude goes beyond good manners.

And within the season of giving, there are so many beautiful ways to foster a feeling of gratitude. Here are a few key thoughts I have about teaching gratitude and thankfulness, especially during the holidays.

Child’s Age Matters

Naturally I expect the best manners from my teenagers. And of course, my six year old knows how to properly behave…for his age. But I wouldn’t expect the same behavior from my toddler that I do from my kindergartener!

Discuss with your partner ahead of time what behaviors you each expect from your children, with consideration for their ages.

Younger children can’t be expected to model gratitude in the same way that tweens can. However children of all ages can show an authentic, deep appreciation in an age-appropriate way.

Little boy and girl wearing Christmas pajamas and laughing

Start With Small Things

This starts with teaching “please” and “thank you” from a young age. If your toddler receives a treat from someone, you can speak on their behalf to offer the, “Thank you”. Or if they are able to speak, remind them to say it themselves.

What to Expect of Young Kids

Elementary aged children can be expected to offer thanks without prompting. That doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes get wrapped up in the moment and forget though!

Young children do love to give, so make sure they have the opportunity to create something special for someone over the holiday (like a hand-drawn card).

Raising Grateful Teens

Older children can show their gratitude in larger ways, both verbally and in physical action. Older kids and teens are able to think outside of their own small world.

Teenagers will often come up with their own ideas during the holidays. This may include donating their time volunteering or ways to verbally or physically express appreciation

Laying Out Expectations

Before we head out for a holiday-themed event, I run through my expectations for each child. When kids know what is expected of them, it’s easier for them to know their boundaries.

I tailor the gentle reminders to each specific child, depending upon their age and abilities.

Discussions might include some of the following ideas –

Table Manners – Encouraging kids to remember their manners during a holiday dinner when they are a guest (not wiggling at the table, using a napkin, etc.)

Conversation Mode – Chatting with the adult party hosts for a few minutes to say thank you for the invitation before running off to play.

Minimize Complaints – Not whining about what foods they don’t like at the party.

Tidy Up After Themselves – Helping to clear their plate from the dinner table and offering to help the host with additional clean up.

Waiting for a Second Round – Not asking for seconds of dessert, at least not until everyone else has had a first serving.

Final Show of Gratitude – Saying, “Thank you for inviting me” when leaving.

Battling the “I Want”

I told my mom’s group that I was having some issues with my six year old acting entitled to certain things around our house. Seems like this time of year brings out the sassy attitude even more!

And what can we expect, when we ask our kids, “What do you want for Christmas?”.

With the focus on getting stuff so heavy during the holidays, kids of all ages can really get wrapped up in what they “want” and not what they can do for others.

Instead of asking the kids what THEY want to receive for Christmas, I’m twisting things a bit. I’ve been asking them what they think their siblings would like to receive.

Instead of focusing on what they’re going to get, I can see that my kids are more excited to be involved in making decisions and helping choose gifts for others.

We’re taking it one step further by making gifts instead of buying (easy things, like these handmade bookmarks).

READ MORE: Write a wish list that includes seasonal wishes and include space for expressing thankfulness with my free Letter to Santa printable template.

Role-Playing Before Gift-Giving Events

Showing thankfulness during the holidays includes the words we say. What’s more cringe-worthy than a kid who receives a gift and says, “I hate this”?

How embarrassing. And of course, hurtful to the person who gave the gift. It can be helpful to practice gratitude beforehand.

Kids Gratitude Practice

In our house, we do a lot of role-playing before parties and gatherings. It’s good practice for kids and a reminder of your expectations. I offer the kids specific examples and the children come up with the proper response to express gratitude.

Ideas for role-play could be to ask, “What would you say if you received a gift that you didn’t like?”. Or “What if you received a new toy that you already have?”

Easy Role Play Responses

My son celebrated his sixth birthday recently and we did some role-play on the way to his birthday party. I asked him, “What if someone gives you underwear as a birthday gift?!” His response was, “Thanks for the undies!”

Simply, yes. The correct and easiest answer is always, “Thank you for the _____!”

Even if you don’t like it. Yes, even if you already have it. And even if it’s a weird present. Thank you is always the right comment to make. 

Acts of Kindness

There are always going to be a lot of ways to volunteer your time during the holidays. These are a few suggestions for locations to volunteer or donate.

Church – Places like churches need extra help in the kid care area. This is usually something that teens can help with and enjoy.

Food Bank or Soup Kitchen – Younger kids can assist with bagging up canned goods in a food bank.

There are also organizations that accept special items for donation during this season. Schools, churches, food banks, and the grocery store encourage families to donate specific food items during the holidays.

When we donated food to our local food bank, I made sure that my 6 year old knew we were giving and explained where the food was going. He was so excited to tell everyone how many items he’d donated!

Gifts – We also made up boxes for Samaritan’s Purse each year. My kids helped me choose the items for the two boxes we filled and went with me when we dropped them off.

They were able to see how grateful the volunteers were when we came with our donations. It was something my kids have not forgotten and I know that it had a big impact on them.

Toys – Have children donate old toys to local families in need. Many communities have a “free” page on Facebook where you can post items, then choose a family to gift the item to.

Clothing – Purchase new clothing, including socks and shoes to donate for local children. Schools and churches often have an “Angel Tree” in which needed items have been gifted anonymously. Check in with a local homeless shelter on donation needs, including blankets and small toiletries.

Schools – Donate a box of school supplies or books to a school district in need.

Notes, Letters and Cards – Have children write gratitude notes to teachers, coaches, neighbors, and friends.

Take the Focus Off Stuff

If you sense your kids are too focused on the stuff this holiday season, find ways to move the focus on experiences rather than things. That’s really what the holiday is, spending time with family and making memories.

These are a few ideas when memory making is high priority. These are all favorite way to celebrate without spending a lot!

  • Baking and decorating cookies. My family will be baking a ton of new cookies this year using some of these holiday cookie recipes.
  • Watching a family Christmas movie
  • Participating in seasonal school activities
  • Walking through the neighborhood to see decorations
  • Singing along to songs on the radio

Read for more ways to create family holiday traditions, with many on a budget.

Keep The Holiday Season Simple

Figure out what things are most important to you and your family. From there you can decide what to do and what to skip this holiday.

Too much of a good thing

I find that when I try to cram too much good stuff into the season, it becomes not only stressful for me, it’s hard on the kids.

And when the kids are having a rough time, it tends to come out in crabby behavior. And then as parents, we start to think, “Ungrateful kids!”

Take breaks between fun activities

Pick and choose only what you most love about the holidays and do those things. Try some of these simple things to do with kids on winter break.

Don’t feel guilty about skipping over other things. Perhaps you can alternate years? Be sure to work in plenty of downtime between holiday celebrations, too.

What really brings you joy?

Do only what brings you and your family the most joy. If certain seasonal activities are more chore than fun, plan to skip over them this year. Focus on positive emotions for each family member and do more of those good things!


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2017 – A Look Back at the Year that Was on Mom Rewritten

Saturday 30th of December 2017

[…] Another little thing that’s important to me is focus on positive parenting and family. I wrote these posts late in the year about Cultivating Family Traditions When You Feel Like You Don’t Have Any and tips for Teaching Kids Gratitude and Thankfulness During the Holidays. […]

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