Teaching an attitude of gratitude to young children

Modeling thankfulness can help instill the character trait of gratitude and caring in your child’s life.

“Just say, ‘Thank you.’” How many times do children hear – and parents and caregivers say – that phrase? With the holiday season fresh in our memories, it might be time to make a resolution to teach your young children an “attitude of gratitude” rather than to just respond to your prompts and reminders to say “thank you”.

Gratitude is one piece of the character trait of being caring and is more than the cursory “thank you.” Real thankfulness requires thought, energy and more than just doing the right thing. Thankfulness impacts the giver as well as the receiver. Forcing a child to say “thank you” doesn’t teach the child to think about what they are thankful for and why. Teaching and learning real gratitude takes time and repeated modeling by adults.

Thankfulness begins when we are able to recognize and point out small things that make us thankful. Adults can model the behavior through daily words and actions:

You teach children how to be grateful when you express your own gratitude openly and model thankfulness through your actions.

There are many simple ways that you can begin to teach your children the “attitude of gratitude.” Try some of these ideas with your children or explore additional ideas from the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation:

It is never too early to begin teaching gratitude. In “Winnie the Pooh,” “Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” Don’t miss an opportunity to model and teach kindness, gratitude and compassion. These are character traits that can enhance your child’s overall growth and development and can buffer your child against a culture that often concentrates on “me” first.

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