Teaching Children Gratitude

Two young girls with their arms around each other

As parents, we want to raise generous and gracious children. Learn how to encourage an attitude of gratitude in your child.

We would all like to have children who appreciate what they have (and what they get) and show generosity towards others. What can we do to encourage an attitude of gratitude in children?

Gratitude can be taught, and modeling is one of the best ways. Infants and toddlers love to play a game of giving. The game starts with your baby reaching a hand out to you with a favorite toy or object—who may or may not turn the object over to you. Start modeling how to express gratitude by being enthusiastically thankful for the offering, whether or not it is actually relinquished. As infants get older, they will actually give up the toy, but will expect it to be returned immediately in most cases. Eventually, you will get the favorite object, and your child will not necessarily expect it back. In each of these phases, if you enthusiastically show thankfulness, she will learn that giving and receiving are good things and the roots of gratitude will be planted.  

Think of the many things we give to a newborn. We feed, change, clothe, soothe, and cuddle. These are all gifts from us to the child. When given with love (which isn’t always easy with demanding infants), a child learns to receive with love and feels special and cared for. 

Fostering Gratitude in Children

Express gratitude. Children are very sensitive to our reactions. When you receive a gift from your child, whether it is a piece of a cookie or an awkward looking napkin holder with pieces falling off, thank your child profusely. How you react to your child’s acts of kindness impacts development around gratitude.  

Talk about what you liked best about your day. At dinner, each family member shares something good about their day. This practice helps focus attention on the wonderful lives we get to lead and helps encourage gratefulness.  

Be generous with your time. The biggest gift you can give your child is time together. A child who gets to spend time with a parent learns he or she is special and cared for. This typically leads towards gracious attitudes with others.

Engage in family projects that help others. Have your child help others by delivering food to a sick or grieving neighbor. Or make a card for a friend in the hospital. When children’s actions are received with gratitude, they often want to do more.    

Don’t force it. When a child is disappointed with a gift he receives, if the gift giver is present at the time, it creates an awkward moment for parents. Ease the awkwardness with a comment like, “Darryl is learning how to show thanks, but we aren’t all the way there yet. We certainly appreciate your graciousness.” Talk to Darryl later about how important it is to say thank you—even if you didn’t get exactly what you wanted.

Consider writing or drawing thank you notes. Some parents wonder whether having a child write a thank you note is a good practice. Many parents feel this is a good thing for children to do to express thankfulness, though they try to take the drudgery out of it, especially if there are lots of notes to write. Think about whether a personal drawing with the words “thank you” written on it might serve the same purpose.  

Say thank you yourself. Thank your child when she helps you. Let her see you thanking others, such as the clerk at the grocery store or the person who cuts your grass.  

Think about the impact of materialism. Limit the amount of TV viewing where children are exposed to new products to buy. Sometimes give gifts of time together, like a museum trip or zoo membership, instead of the latest toy or gadget.

Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Everyone appreciates a grateful attitude. Look for ways to encourage gratefulness and thankfulness that fit with your family’s style and values.

More on Gratitude:

  • Teaching children gratitude can be a challenge in today’s world. Here’s how you can instill an attitude of gratitude in your child in simple, everyday ways.
  • With the holiday season right around the corner, we share our favorite ways to teach our children about kindness and generosity.
  • Teaching your child to be financially responsible from a young age can have a huge impact on their success in life. Here are some money lessons that can help.
  • How can we avoid over spoiling our kids during the holidays? Here are some tips on how we can teach our children to moderate their wants, be thankful for what they have, and give to others.

Written by: Bright Horizons Education Team

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Whether you’re looking for parenting advice, or trying to figure out how to bring learning from the classroom to the family room, let Bright Horizons early education experts be your trusted, knowledgeable resource. Get our weekly newsletter for all things early child development—from the benefits of pretend play to at-home STEM activities, and teaching kindness—along with encouragement for every stage of your parenting journey.