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How to Teach Your Kids and Teens Gratitude

July 12, 2016

By Nikki Cecala

How to Teach Your Kids and Teens Gratitude | Gratitude is a learned behavior. If your children are grateful for what they have, they are more likely to be happy now and later in life. | A child holds a chalkboard sign that says, "Thank you."

Have you ever heard the phrase, “No one is born grateful?”

Gratitude is a learned behavior, which can be tricky with toddlers as they are a bit selfish by nature. Instilling gratitude in young children will help them remain grateful as they age, but it’s not too late to influence your teenagers, too.

If your children are grateful for what they have, they are more likely to be happy now and later in life. In fact, according to a Harvard Health Publication study, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

So, how can you teach your children gratitude?

In Early Childhood and Elementary School
Children model their behavior after their parents’ actions, so it is important to lead by example. 

  • Are you are saying please and thank you when you are around your child?
  • Are you reminding your child to say please and thank you to others?

The earlier you model gratitude with your child, the more successful your child will be at both demonstrating and feeling it.

  • Practice daily.
    To teach my son the concept of gratitude, I started asking my son what he was thankful for before we went to bed every night. He won’t necessarily say, “I am thankful for blah blah blah” because he is young, but he will express what made him happy that day. For example, he will say, “I liked my popsicle,” or “My cousin came over to play,” or “Mommy made pizza for dinner!”
  • Point out gratitude in action.
    When your child is watching a TV show or reading a book, point out when the characters show gratitude. “Did you see how Big Bird said, ‘thank you?’ He is grateful to Elmo for helping him.”
  • Include in playtime.
    Another great way to get children to acknowledge gratitude is to include it in their role-playing or imagination time.

In Middle School and High School
Teaching a teenager gratitude can be a bit more difficult. As teens embrace their individuality, they also distance themselves from their parents. Sit down with your teenager and discuss the difference between a person’s rights and privileges. It’s easy to forget how lucky we are to have what we do.

For example, you can explain that in our country, your child has a right to a public education, but it’s a privilege for him or her to participate in afterschool programs, events, and social functions.

Here are some other ways to introduce gratitude to your teenager:

  • Encourage volunteer work.
    Whether it is participating in community service through the school or volunteering through a local church or community center, the opportunity can teach your teenager to be thankful for what he or she has and to give back to the community and help others who are less fortunate.
  • Thank their teachers.
    Is there a teacher who goes the extra mile for your child? Ask your teen to write his or her teacher a thank you note. Explain to your teenager that the extra effort the teacher put in was out of the kindness of his or her heart to see your child succeed.

Regardless of the age of your child, be patient. Children are constantly growing and changing, but the investment you make now will be worth it in the future.

Do you have a routine, approach, activity, or conversation topic that has helped instill gratitude in your child? Please share what has worked for you in the comments below.

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