Raising thankful children

Explore suggestions to cultivate and encourage thankfulness in children.

To communicate the idea of gratefulness, parents can model caring language and actions.

To communicate the idea of gratefulness, parents can model caring language and actions.

Although Thanksgiving comes only once a year, we would like to instill the value of thankfulness and being appreciative as part of our children’s daily life. So how do parents go about teaching this to young children? First, parents should start with children who are about 3 years of age. This is a good age because children are interested in other people: they mimic other people’s behavior and have not had much experience outside the home. Teaching values at home before children are exposed to inappropriate behavior gives children a reference point when they do experience it. They will know it is inappropriate because the parent has told them so. Being clear and specific is important.

Parents can also express their thankfulness to their children when they do helpful or kind deeds. Children will tend to repeat behavior they are praised for. You can also encourage children to help family members in small ways. Some examples could be helping with groceries that are not heavy, helping an older adult. Parent and child can donate food or other items to shelters. You can check out church groups, Salvation Army, women’s shelters and homeless shelters just to mention a few. There are also animal shelters which will help develop an appreciativeness and caring for animals. If parents donate to shelters, children will get a clear message of what giving is if they actually take part in it.

To communicate the idea of gratefulness, parents can model using caring language that expresses care, thankfulness and appreciative to others. Using phrases like “Thank you for helping,” or stretching it a bit further to the child and simply stating “Wasn’t that nice of her to ___,” will model gratefulness. I will often ask parents, “How do you want your child to grow up like?” Frequently, parents will respond with words like “kind,” “caring,” “responsible,” “respectful,” “successful” and so on. Once we have an idea of what qualities we want our children to have, we can go about teaching them to be just that.

Parents can also read books to their children that portray the idea of “thankfulness.” You can check out a list of books at Zero to Three, the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families’ website.

Be being intentional, the acts of thankfulness parents take when nurturing and caring for their children are more likely to be returned in time as children grow.

For more articles on child development, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.


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