Teaching thankfulness and gratitude

Four tips to help your children be more grateful.

Four tips to help your child be more grateful this Thanksgiving season. | MSU Extension

Four tips to help your child be more grateful this Thanksgiving season. | MSU Extension

There are many social and emotional skills parents and caregivers strive to teach their children. One trait that is often discussed is how to help children become more grateful for material items, such as holiday gifts, as well as their family, friends, homes, food, etc. As adults, we are aware that gratitude and thankfulness are character traits that make us happier and make life more fulfilling. In fact, recent research has shown that gratitude has the strongest relationship to life satisfaction. Simply put, people who are grateful are more likely to be happy.

How do we raise children to be grateful? Here are four tips to put into practice in your home this Thanksgiving season.

  1. Support your children’s growing independence. As children mature, they gain the ability and need to be more autonomous. Encourage your child to spread their wings and learn to become their own best advocate. Children need to learn how to fall and get back up, to fight their own battles and to stand up for themselves. Children also need to be needed at home and in their family. Help your child see they are a critical part of house functions by giving them important chores such as feeding the dog, changing kitty litter or helping with dinner. Your child’s growing sense of self-confidence is strengthened when they learn how to accomplish a task or when they tackle a problem on their own.
  2. Spend time with your children. Put away the smart phone, turn off the television, and spend time together as a family. Teach your child how to make Grandma’s pumpkin pie this year, have them help get ready for guests and tell them stories of your childhood holiday traditions and memories. Children, even teenagers, appreciate and value spending time with their families. Look for little ways to include your child in your daily activities and connect with them in meaningful ways. Families today live very busy lives; nightly dinner together might not be a possibility. However, that connected family time is still valuable. Strive to find time to spend together as a family daily, perhaps at the breakfast table, or just connecting before bed every night for a few minutes of focused conversation.
  3. Model gratitude. Adults often talk about wanting to teach their children to be grateful but are the first to complain about things happening in their lives, such as that off-target gift from Grandma. Model gratitude and empathy in your actions and deeds. Demonstrate what gratefulness looks like, even if your idea of the perfect gift wasn’t the green fuzzy socks you received! Express your gratitude in front of your children with your words and actions. Say thank you to cashiers, clerks and other community members in front of your child. Tell your children you appreciate their effort to help with chores and listen to directions. Parents are their children’s first role-model: remember your children are always watching and learning from what you do. If your child struggles with being appreciative during the holiday season, consider providing them with a script to respond with when opening gifts. Saying “thank you” and identifying something they like about the gift, perhaps the color or what they would enjoying doing with it, can go a long way in helping children learn how to respond when they are disappointed.
  4. Teach gratitude and thankfulness. Talk to children about those that are less fortunate. Help them to see the ways they can give back in their community. Preschoolers can help sort through their toys to donate to children who do not have as much. School-aged children can participate in volunteer activities such as community give-back days, where yards are raked, snow is shoveled and other tasks are done for people who need help. Is your child passionate about pets? Help them organize a pet food drive for the pets of needy families who struggle to purchase pet food in addition to meeting their own nutritional needs. Donate time at the Humane Society or local animal control by walking dogs or playing with the kittens. Look for adopt-a-family, mitten tree or other targeted events this holiday season to help families in need. Visit volunteermatch.org or your local United Way to search for volunteer opportunities children can engage in.

With focused attention, you can raise a child to be grateful and in turn, be happy.

Michigan State University Extension offers a variety of early childhood education resources, professional development and parent education sessions. For more information about programs near you, ideas to extend favorite children’s books and much more, visit the MSU Extension Early Childhood Development webpage.

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