Thanksgiving comes only once a year, but there are no calendar restrictions on thankfulness. Gratitude is something that our families can show all year long. The Christmas season, especially, is a fantastic time for our children to show gratefulness. However, an attitude of gratitude doesn’t come naturally for most people. Instead, it is a learned response to receiving what God has given us in our lives. As parents, we need to teach our children to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). The best place to start is by teaching kids gratitude in our homes.
Do you remember your parents telling you, “Say ‘Thank you’” whenever you received something? It takes work and attention to develop a grateful heart in ourselves and our children, but a few tweaks to our habits and attitudes can help us cultivate thankfulness in our lives.
Research over the past decade has consistently shown that genuine, ongoing gratitude helps improve emotional, relational, mental, and physical health. Gratitude also develops essential social behaviors in our kids.
Notice that the word gratitude has a misspelled version of attitude built-in: gr-atitude. The Bible tells us repeatedly that we should live with an attitude of gratitude, “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). Even in moments of our greatest anxiety, we are to bring our requests to God with prayer and thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6).
5 Ways to Teach Kids Gratitude at Home
Parents often ask me, “How can I get my kids to be thankful?” Here are five practical ways to teach kids gratitude in your home:
1. Teach Kids Gratitude by Using the Gratitude Lens
Your children mirror what you do. Do you speak and act from a grateful mindset? Gratitude gives your mind a chance to reset. When you are in a difficult situation, or even just going through everyday life, repeat to yourself the phrase, “Is there another way to look at this?” Look at your circumstances through a “gratitude lens.” Suddenly, household chores become opportunities to serve rather than inconveniences in your day. Difficulties such as financial struggles can become growth opportunities or opportunities to take a grateful inventory of what you do have. Looking at situations through this lens of gratitude can shift your whole perspective, experience, and attitude.
2. Gratitude Photo Album
Take pictures of things you are grateful for throughout the year and put together a gratitude photo album or scrapbook. Have each family member share photos of the things they are (or can be) thankful for. You can task everyone in your family (young and old) to take pictures of things they’re thankful for, even very small things, and to prepare a show and tell (digital album, printed, or on-screen) for New Year’s Day. Be creative and have lots of fun with this one!
3. Gratitude Poster Board
Propose a family challenge and come up with one different thing your family is thankful for every day for an entire year. Each day pick something your family is grateful for and write it on a piece of poster board in different colors. Family members can take turns contributing to that day’s object of gratitude, with a different family member taking scribe duties. Let your kids be artistic and creative when writing things down. The key here is to come up with 365 different things you and your family are thankful for and take some time to reflect on the thankfulness of those things.
4. Take a Gratitude Walk
Take time to walk, take deep breaths, and let your mind reflect on things you’re thankful for. Look around and appreciate what you see, experience, or remember. For me, this involves gazing at the stars, standing in awe of the lakes and mountains of Colorado, enjoying the miracle of trees, plants, and flowers, or looking at people through a lens of amazement.
You can do this alone or as a family. You can have young kids be sleuths of things to be grateful for throughout the walk. With older kids, you can talk about things you can notice in your lives through a lens of gratitude. Several kids have recently told me that they are thankful for moments of being in-person with their friends in school or doing things together. Discuss the reality that sometimes we tend not to notice things until we lose them. How can you and your family use gratitude walks to create a culture of gratitude in your home?
5. Teach Kids Gratitude for Our Rolling Credits
At the end of a movie, the rolling credits reveal people who have had a hand in making the film (with up to nine minutes of scrolling names!). Similarly, we have many people who have contributed to our lives. Which people have taken the time to invest in you? Who has encouraged you with words or actions? Who has influenced you? Take some time to talk about those people in your life. Thank them with a note, text, or phone call. Let people in your life story know how they have been a part of your “rolling credits.”