5 Activities To Teach Gratitude to Your Kids

team member talking with young patient in chair

Express gratitude this holiday season!

While there are universal Thanksgiving traditions, such as eating turkey and mashed potatoes and drinking apple cider, most families also have a host of their own unique traditions. Each of these traditions tend to hold a special place in our hearts, but the most important Thanksgiving tradition of all lies in its name—counting our blessings and giving thanks for all of them, big and small.

This sort of positive, thankful attitude is important to cultivate year-round, but Thanksgiving is a great time to emphasize it and a wonderful opportunity to teach gratitude to your children. It can be difficult to come up with creative, fun ways to get your children to enjoy expressing gratitude, however, especially during the busy holiday season. Below, we have shared some ideas that will help cultivate an attitude of gratitude while helping your entire family have fun together.

1. Lead by Example

No matter what time of year it is, one of the best ways to teach gratitude is simple: Live out the attitude you want your children to develop. Make an effort to genuinely thank your children for something they have done, even if you asked them to do it, and make a habit of thanking other people; your children will pick up on how you treat others, including strangers.

Another great thing to do when you can is to try and stay positive, even if it means searching for a silver lining. Does your new job require you to work longer hours? Well, at least you’ll be able to get most weekends off.

We’re all human, so we know that living out a life of gratitude is nearly impossible to do 24/7. Everyone has bad days and gets worn down, but that’s a good lesson for your children to learn, too. It’s simply important for our children to see us living out a life of gratitude as best as we can; they’re great imitators, so seeing us live so positively will go a long way toward them picking up the habit, as well.

2. Thanksgiving Tree

Thanksgiving is a great time to break out some crafting supplies and practice gratitude in a more tangible way. One great gratitude craft you can create as a family is a Thanksgiving tree, which can double as a Thanksgiving decoration for your home.

All you need is a small, tree-like stick from your backyard, stripped of all leaves, fall-colored construction paper, tape, and a centerpiece you can put the stick in to hold it upright. Once the stick is in your centerpiece, all you have to do is cut some leaves out of construction paper. Make sure to cut a stem, too, as you’ll use it to secure your leaves to the tree.

Have a family brainstorming session about what everyone is thankful for—anything goes! If your child is thankful for a stuffed animal or the cereal they ate this morning, then that can go on the tree; if you want to teach gratitude to your kids, teach them to be thankful even about the little things. Details like that make great memories later.

After all your leaves are complete, simply tape them onto the tree by looping the stem around the stick and taping it back to the leaf. Best of all, most of this craft is reusable; you can store the centerpiece and stick for next year and pack away the leaves as keepsakes.

3. Gratitude Jars

If you like the idea of a Thanksgiving tree but wish it was more of a year-round exercise, you might enjoy using a family gratitude jar. You can make one of these easily by using a mason jar and whatever materials you’d like, though paint or tissue paper and liquid starch are popular ways to decorate these jars. Once your jar is complete, you can keep slips of paper next to the jar and encourage your entire family to write at least one thing they’re grateful for each day, then slip it into the jar.

On Thanksgiving, you’ll sit down with your family and go through the year’s blessings one by one. It’s amazing how many pile up throughout the year that you may have forgotten about—plus, there are bound to be a few laughs in there!

4. Thank You Cards

An important part of gratitude is learning to tell people when you’re grateful for something they have said or done. Aside from teaching them to say “thank you” in the moment, another great way to get your child to practice this is to have them write thank you cards.

For younger kids, a great way to do this is to make a printed page that says, “You made my day!” with a simple letter format and blanks that your child can fill in either on their own or with your help. If your child is artistic, they might love the idea of leaving some blank space, so they can add a drawing to each card.

Challenge your child to give one of these cards out every week. They can give the card to anyone—you, a teacher, a classmate, or even a dentist or a friendly waitress. This is a great teaching exercise for your kids, but it’s also a great way to make someone else’s day.

5. Regular Activities

Practicing gratitude on a daily or weekly basis is a great way to teach gratitude and also help your children develop a positive outlook on life. The goal is to truly cultivate a thankful attitude, so these activities should be fun rather than annoying or boring; tailor the activity to your child’s interests and personality. Your kids might prefer expressing what they’re grateful for through a journal, a video diary, paintings, or drawings. If those options aren’t active enough, try letting them choose a few props to act out the day’s exciting adventures or give you a nightly news report.

No matter what method works for your children, making it a habit—either a weekly or nightly practice—is a great way to build gratitude into the foundation of your children’s lives. It also has the added benefit of keeping you up-to-date on what’s going on in your children’s lives, especially as they start attending school.

When you teach gratitude to your children, whether it’s through crafts or daily activities, you’ll find that it is a great way to spend time together as a family, learning about each other and simply having fun. Gratitude will help your family stay tight-knit, but it will also benefit your children for the rest of their lives, helping them to keep a positive outlook on life, build healthier and happier relationships, and perhaps even live longer.