Teaching Your Kids an Attitude of Gratitude this Thanksgiving

Ideas to teach your kids to be more grateful and thankful for what they have

Thanksgiving is the perfect time of year to work on teaching your kids to be more thankful for what they have. We get so caught up in the Holiday madness of traveling, hosting dinners, shopping, and making Holiday wish lists that sometimes it's nice to take a breath, sit down as a family and talk with your kids about how lucky your family is, how grateful we should be, and how to say thank you for more than just gifts. It's a tricky concept to teach young children, who are natually self-centered, but by starting when they are young you can help lay the foundation to be grateful and think of others. 

We try a variety of activities to help our kids develop more of an attitude of gratitude. Here are some ideas we've found to create a more grateful family.

Model gratitude. As parents, we need to do a good job of modeling how to be grateful. When someone helps you, your kids will hear you say "thank you" and emulate your behavior in the future. Write thank you notes when you get a gift. Bring a hostess gift when your friends invite you to dinner. Tell your kids when someone does something nice for you that makes you happy. They'll definitely learn how to show gratitude and how easy it is to make someone happy. Most importantly, thank your kids when they do something super special for you.

Daily thanks. Every day at dinner, in the car, or before bedtime ask everyone in the family to share one or two things they are grateful for each day. Some families do this at the dinner table while praying, others keep a daily journal. Whatever works best for your family, make sure you do it consistently.

Lend a Hand. There is no better way to show how fortunate your family is than to help someone who is not. Have your kids volunteer with you. Have your kids help you rake leaves from your elderly neighbor's yard. Collect non-perishable food in your neighborhood and deliver it to a local food pantry. Read my post How to Teach Your Kids the Importance of Giving Back for additional family volunteering ideas.

Make Gratitude Fun. Start a new tradition where you can nominate another family member for a Gratitude Award when they do something nice. You can make this a weekly award or collect nominations throughout November and announce the good deeds in front of the whole family at Thanksgiving dinner. Have the kids help you write thank you notes to special people in your life for their help throughout the year - a neighbor who drives your kids to school; the babysitter who is always there for you; your Scout Leaders who gives so much of their time to make sure your kids are having fun.

Instead of a Secret Santa, have your kids play a game where they are secret helpers. Have them secretly do a chore or nice deed for someone else. Then see if the recipient can guess who helped them. Or, before the relatives come over for Thanksgiving dinner, have your kids make Thanks and Giving trees. Every night in November, the whole family writes down something they are thankful for on a leaf and pastes it to the Thanks Tree. They also write something Giving they did on a leaf and paste it to the Giving tree. It's a cute way to decorate for Thanksgiving and the whole family will love reading what the kids wrote. Download these cute templates from LivingLocurto.com.

How do you teach your kids to be more grateful? I'd love to add more ideas!

Read my Creative Thanksgiving Family Fun Ideas to start a new tradition or just have more fun with your family this Thanksgiving.


Sue Kirchner is a family fun coach, kids party planner, and weekly contributor to Patch.com. Sue and her family fun ideas have been featured on TV, newspapers, magazines, blogs, as well as her own family fun site ChocolateCakeMoments.com.

Melanie Santostefano November 09, 2012 at 02:19 AM
Thanks for you comment Jac. Sue has been writing her column for Patch for more than two years now, and we are very lucky to have her. Best, Melanie Palatine and Arlington Heights Patch
Procrustes' Foil November 09, 2012 at 11:27 AM
Sue, by the dearth of posts to your article, it appears that gratitude is not very important. But gratitude is important and powerful, as Jac writes. Thanks for a very thoughtfull article. We expect young children to be egocentric. But it is very disturbing to see this same behavior in adults - young adults as well as older adults. All too often I have seen adults have temper tantrums when they don't get what they want or what they think they deserve. Thanksgiving is a good time to remind ourselves about gratitude and the less fortunate. But what about the rest of the year?
Morgan Dubiel November 09, 2012 at 12:02 PM
Good article, Sue. Some time ago I wrote a very similar article on this very topic. As a kid I always loved Christmas, but as an adult I've come to really enjoy Thanksgiving. It is less commercialized and more focused on family, friendships and community. My interest in the holiday led me to explore the science behind happiness. Penn has a department devoted to this and in their world-wide studies across peoples and cultures they found one common element among those classified as happy - gratitude. Despite whatever trial or turmoil in their lives grateful people were happy and felt better about their circumstances. An attitude of gratitude is an immeasurable gift and one worth teaching our children. Well done.
Craig Apelbaum November 09, 2012 at 06:49 PM
It all starts with home training.
Bree Olson November 09, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Thanksgiving is really all about drinking beer, watching football, and having the women cook for you. Maybe a back rub too if they finish the laundry and dishes before you fall asleep on the couch. Thats what I teach my boys and they're learning from the best.


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