Tips for Parents: How to Help Children Learn Habits of Gratitude

How to Help Children Learn Habits of Gratitude

Young girls writing cards

The holiday season is officially upon us and with it comes a great opportunity to focus on being thankful. Many children look forward to this time of year with excitement and wonder. Many also have big expectations and sometimes not as much gratitude as we would like for them to have.

Creating an environment of gratitude around kids is particularly important during this season of generosity. Doing so can set you up to make thankfulness a part of your family routine all year round. Here’s how you can get started:

How to Help Children Learn Habits of Gratitude

1. Create moments of gratitude in your routine

Find a time in your daily routine that makes sense to add a moment of gratitude. Dinner and bedtime both work well, but any time that fits for your family is perfect. Each person in the family can share one thing for which they were grateful that day. It can be anything, big or small. This will help kids think about and be aware of the good things in their lives. Many families enjoy writing these things down in a family journal – then reflecting upon them in the future.

2. Model thankfulness yourself

As a parent, you are your child’s primary teacher. It is incredibly important to express thanks for what you have and always say “thank you” to other people when they do something for you and your family. Extend this to your children, thank them for what they do and who they are. Use little opportunities every day – like when your child picks up his toys, helps a sibling solve a problem or completes homework without having to be asked – to thank your child for being responsible and being a respectful member of the family. Kids crave this reinforcement and will learn from your example.

3. Say NO sometimes

This likely goes without saying, but it can be difficult to carry out.  When your child asks for something or asks to do something, it’s ok to say “no”. In fact, saying “yes” all the time can be a disservice to her. Instead, give your child a way to earn what she desires. If you give her a way to earn a reward, instead of handing it to them, you increase how much they appreciate it.

4. Encourage your child to help others

Start holiday traditions that focus on sharing with others. It’s easy for kids to get caught up on the “gimme” that often comes with the holiday season. Wonder and excitement for children is a big part of what makes this time of year special. You have the opportunity to help your child learn the wonder of sharing with other people.

5. Write a note of thanks

After the proverbial holiday dust settles, make time as a family to write thank you notes to the people who were generous to you during the holiday season. Handwriting cards gives kids an opportunity to put their gratitude into words and is such a special treat for the people who receive them. Also consider writing thank you cards for kind gestures as well as gifts. Notes to people who hosted your family for a gathering, or helped organize a fun event can help kids be grateful for the experiences they had and not simply for the things they received.

As you celebrate the holidays that are important and meaningful to you and your family this year, look for opportunities to share moments of gratitude with your children. And even more importantly, make moments of gratitude part of your routine throughout the years ahead. Your efforts now will have an impact on your children for years to come.

To learn more about our Division of Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology, please visit our website, or call 513-636-4336.   

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Lynne Merk, PhD

About the Author: Lynne Merk, PhD

Lynne Merk, PhD, is a psychologist in the Division of Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology at Cincinnati Children’s. Dr. Merk specializes in anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and helping families cope with medical illness.

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