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Eleven Easy Ways to Teach Kids Gratitude

Can we stop for a quick sec? I want to let you know right now how grateful I am that you are taking the time out of your day to read this, to give me the opportunity to make a living doing something I am passionate about, and for caring enough to teach your kids to be grateful. YOU ARE AMAZING. Truly.

Gah. Gratitude is the best, isn’t it? I feel like it’s one of those skills where there’s really no downside – it makes other people feel better, it centers you in your life, and reminds us what is important.

Then WHY CAN’T MY KIDS GET ON BOARD AND BE GRATEFUL FOR ALL THEY HAVE?!?!?! 😂

I may have had this thought once or a thousand times after we’ve played the zillionth round of “I want more LEGOS!” when we barely have room to sit down because LEGOS COVER EVERY SURFACE OF OUR HOUSE.

And then I remember that gratitude, like all important life skills, must be taught over time, a muscle that’s built up through practiced use and repeated failures. And then I also remember parenting is so flippin’ exasperating sometimes.

With that in mind (practice, practice, practice, right?) here are a few of the things we’ve been trying out to keep our kids (and us!) grateful.

Eleven Ideas to Help Teach Your Kids Gratitude

1. Write thank you cards. Oh man, way to start with the hardest one, Kara! We have been HORRIBLE at this! When I was little, my mom would sit us down the very next day and have us write our Christmas or birthday thank yous. I don’t really have a good excuse as to why we haven’t, except I have good intentions and no follow through and then eventually it seems too late to send them and I promise myself I’ll do better the next holiday. Ugh.

Thank you cards are such a tangible way of sharing your gratitude, don’t you think? The time it takes to write it tells the giver you appreciate the gift and them.

And I LOVE these Send It My Way thank you cards! One of my friends came up with them as an easy way for littles, who can’t yet write, to share the thanks and love. The kids were totally into them, especially when they found out they’d get to mail them (it really doesn’t take much, does it?). And I imagine Grandma would have LOVED them if I’d remembered to put them in the mail. 😂

2. Use dinnertime. At dinner, we almost always do our “rose” (one positive thing that happened) and “thorn” for the day (one thing we’re either working on or felt difficult) and recently I’ve added one thing we’re grateful for. The answers aren’t always deep (ice cream is a common theme), although sometimes the kids will surprise us. I feel like it helps keep gratitude top of mind for the entire family.

3. Ask four questions at bedtime. If dinner doesn’t work for you, what about bedtime? One of my friends asks her kiddos these four questions before they go to sleep at night: What are you most proud of today? What mistakes did you make? What are you grateful for? What are you looking forward to tomorrow?

Honestly, I had actually completely forgotten about this until I started writing this post and I’m going to absolutely start doing this tonight. What a great way to connect with your kids before bed and help them process their day (and find out what’s actually going on with them!).

4. Make a grateful space. One of our kiddo’s teachers sent home the best, simple idea – a piece of construction paper with four envelopes glued on, each with our name written on it (and heavily decorated in glitter, of course). We then wrote each other little love notes or thank yous and stuck them in the person’s envelope.

It was AMAZING for about a week and then we kinda forgot to do it. Maybe something to bring back?

5. Have them save money for causes they’re interested in. I’m sure you’ve seen the whole three jar allowance system where you have one jar for saving, another for spending, and another for giving. Our kids divide their allowance up between the three jars and then donate their Giving jar to an organization of their choice.

Both kids spent a long time figuring out where they wanted to donate their money, which made them a lot more invested and led to some excellent conversations about how people might benefit from their donations and how lucky we are to be in a position where we can help. 

6. Say “thank you.” Okay, so this seems totally obvious, but it feels like the basis for a life of gratitude, doesn’t it?

I’m constantly reminding my kids to say it, but I’ve also tried to be aware of taking the time to thank people as well, especially folks that might not always get recognized – the busser who cleans up our dinner mess, the gal cleaning the bathroom at the mall, the crossing guard who is out there even when it’s 10 degrees. I mean I know I’m super grateful to have a clean mall bathroom – we should let people know!

7. Find a place to donate time as a family. Growing up, my family placed a huge emphasis on volunteering. My parents were constantly reminding us of how fortunate we were and what a gift it is to be able to share it. Now, I suppose it could have gone the other way and made us resentful and hoarder-y, but, honestly, giving and helping feels so good, we all, selfishly, became volunteers for life.

We’ve done some volunteering with our kids, but haven’t been consistent, mainly because I felt like bringing my toddlers was more annoying than helpful. Now that they’re a bit older, I’m thinking it’s time we find a place that we all feel good about as a family. Anyone have suggestions for places they’ve volunteered that worked for everyone?

8. Tell your kids what you’re grateful for. Parenting is all about walking the talk, which is another annoying part of parenting, isn’t it? No, YOU shouldn’t eat more than one cookie but LOOK AWAY WHILE I SHOVE 14 IN MY MOUTH AT ONCE.

OMG.

This is an easy one, though, to show your kids how it’s done. Simply tell your kids what you’re grateful for, often. It can be everything from how lucky you feel that they’re your kiddo, to how great it is to live where you do, to how much you appreciate their help picking up their toys.

For us, this is an everyday part of our life now (finally! one I’m nailing!) and it’s become second nature to recognize each other and talk positively about the people in our lives.

9. Teach gratitude as a choice. I was a huge reader as a kid (still am) and my mom made sure there were plenty of biographies in the mix. I distinctly remember reading Anne Frank and thinking, dramatically, “If Anne can see beauty in life, so can I.” And then I probably rearranged my Caboodle or something, but the understanding that gratitude is a choice wedged its way in there.

I’m sure this is one of those where my kids are going to roll their eyes as adults at how many times their mom said, “So, we get to decide how we feel about this situation…”, but I feel like understanding this changed my adult life. I want my kids to understand THEY hold the key to their own happiness and choosing to be grateful for what they already have will open their lives to more joy.

So, we talk about it a lot. And I’m sure they’ll continue to talk about it for years to come. In therapy.

10. Set up expectations. Going to Target has the potential to be the most maddening trip EVER, doesn’t it? If my kids are in the wrong mood, they will whine and plead and cajole me into Crazy Town, which typically ends with some long lecture about how fortunate they are and how much stuff they already have (that I might throw out!) and then we all feel gross and bummed out.

Instead, what we’ve started doing, is setting expectations BEFORE setting foot onto the hallowed ground. I let them know if we’ll be buying anything for them or just looking while we’re in the car and I feel like it’s alleviated a lot of pain. Then, if we have time, and they’ve been cool about not asking for stuff, I’ll let them go and LOOK at the toys, which is also a sneaky way of working their “walk away” muscle.

I don’t know if this one actually helps teach gratitude, but it’s made our shopping trips less about getting and more about enjoying being together.

11. Marie Kondo the crap out of their toys. I’ve been on a total Marie Kondo kick (really, who hasn’t?) and I can’t believe how much more I appreciate what I have after getting rid of a ton of junk. Because I can see what I have again and it’s easily accessible and everything brings me JOY 😬, I’m really using what I have instead of looking for more, more, more.

Kids are no different. The less my kids have, the more they seem to use it, which is pretty much the definition of gratitude, right? Appreciating and using  what you have.

Having said that, we haven’t done a full KonMari where we dump all the toys into a huge pile, but I think it needs to happen soon. Maybe this weekend? I’ll update this and let you know how it goes!

What did I miss? How are you teaching your kids about gratitude? Tell me all your secrets!

And here are a few links to things that have helped me think about this:

The Opposite of Spoiled: This book is all about how to raise kids that are smart about money, but there’s a ton in here about teaching gratitude (and it goes in-depth into how to implement a three jar allowance).

Three Jars: I randomly found this website in my Internet travels and haven’t tried it yet, but it looks helpful. It’s an online version of the three jars so you can just deposit money in your kids’ accounts rather than have to remember to get cash.

Places to Volunteer with Your Kids: This website has pretty much every volunteer opportunity you can imagine, broken down by zip code and type of activity. Things that caught my eye: helping a refugee family, watching kids while their parents are in parenting classes, serving breakfast to homeless youth, helping pick up trash at our local park. SO MANY IDEAS!

Do You Need Manners with Your Robot?: Design Mom did a great post on if you should say “thank you” to your Alexa and how it affects our manners in general.

Send It Thank You Cards: I know I already said it, but I love these cards! Such a great way to get your littles who can’t write yet in on the action (plus, it’ll keep ’em busy for at least as long as it take to unload the dishwasher).

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Photos by my gal who I’m so grateful for, MILOU AND OLIN PHOTOGRAPHY.

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POSTED ON: 02-28-2019

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