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Teaching Children to be Grateful

written by: Deb Killion • edited by: Carly Stockwell • updated: 11/10/2014

Gratitude is an important concept young children need to be taught. The holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas present the perfect opportunity to teach children to be thankful. Here are some tips for parents on achieving that goal.

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    Teaching Gratitude With Thanksgiving coming up in November, our thoughts turn to our lists of things we are grateful for. Many teachers in classrooms will ask students to make a list of things they are thankful for at Thanksgiving, and perhaps ask them to share some of it with class members. This is a worthy pursuit, but teaching kids gratefulness should be something parents and teachers incorporate year round as well.

    The way you view Thanksgiving is totally up to you and the way you wish to teach your children. However, there is no doubt that Thanksgiving was set aside by our first ancestors to America for the sole purpose of offering thanks to God. Thanksgiving has never been just about the turkey. This is a fact and one that has been passed down for generations. Outside of this fact, however, there are a number of good reasons to teach kids gratitude which will prove helpful to them in the real world.

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    Why Teaching Gratitude is Important

    Being grateful is an important trait in life which should be taught in the early grades. It is with gratefulness that we communicate appreciation for others, and improve our relationships with those who have helped us along the way. Being grateful means different things to different people, but here are some of the reasons we should teach the trait of being grateful to kids year round, not only at Thanksgiving:

    1. Being appreciated and valued is one of the most meaningful parts of life. People want to know that you appreciate them, if they do something nice for you or help you. Showing gratitude to others is often rewarded in numerous ways by those that you’ve shown appreciation to. And, while this should not be the primary motivation, kids will see that people will respond to gratefulness in a positive way.

    2. Gratefulness is a positive human trait which is expected by most people. It is just common human courtesy to show gratitude to others and most people expect this behavior from people as a general rule, and tend to think they are rude if they do not show it.

    3. It is an understood trait in the business world. People in the business world need others to help them do things to achieve tasks and objectives. Successful business people tend to be able to show gratitude easily and often when people do things for them. This also tends to have a “boomerang” effect and they get back positive results from this simple action of showing respect and gratitude from clients, co-workers, and employees.

    4. Gratitude encourages social interaction. Thanking someone for a job well-done, patting them on the back for help in a project, or other objective goes a long way towards encouraging positive social exchanges between people.

    5. Kids who show gratitude to teachers are generally more liked than those who do not. Teachers work hard to achieve goals for kids’ education and appreciate the child or parent who takes the time to let them know their efforts are appreciated.

    6. Expressing gratitude to others helps children realize the blessings of giving. Having positive role-models, such as their parents, generous teachers, and others helps them to understand the focus of giving and helping others, so that they incorporate this value into their lives. It helps them be less selfish and may also inspire them to work toward loftier causes such as ending world hunger and other philanthropist work later in life.

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    Psychological Implications

    Research shows that children who are ungrateful can become very difficult to deal with, lack social skills, and are unable to cope with disappointment. Sometimes parents try to do too much and give too much to their children to the point where their gifts are taken for granted. Sometimes teaching gratitude also means holding back on certain favors until children show appreciation for what they have.

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    How to Teach Gratitude

    To teach gratitude to children, remind them that we all need each other. The ancient pilgrims and first settlers to America were grateful to many people for their lives, property, and establishments, including God, whom they believed saw them through their journey safely to find the new land. Today, many shy away from this concept due to the changing culture in the country. However, the tradition of expressing thankfulness is relevant for all cultures and belief-systems and is still very relevant today.

    Parents can encourage children to express thankfulness to relatives, friends, teachers and anyone else who they interact with in day-to-day life (a mail carrier, cashier, baby-sitter, etc.). Explain to them that complaining about a situation is a way that people express ungratitude and should be kept to a minimum.

    Try writing thank-you notes with your children, or preparing small thank-you gifts for people who have had a big impact in your child's life. Go around the dinner table and have every family members list what they are most thankful for. Most importantly, be aware of how you are (or are not) expressing gratitude in your own life. Remember most children learn from example.