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Raise a Grateful Child—and Watch Them Become a Caring Adult

Photo by Meaghan Curry / Stocksy
Photo by Meaghan Curry / Stocksy

We could all use an extra dose of gratitude during the holiday season—children included. By learning gratitude early (and seeing you express gratitude yourself), children become sensitive to the feelings of others and develop empathy. And empathy of course is core to building healthy relationships throughout their lives. Luckily, gratitude is relatively easy to teach (and practicing it will warm both of your hearts). 

  • Model gratitude with manners. Good manners and gratitude overlap. Saying "thank you" might be a learned behavior for young children, but as they grow, they’ll be able to better grasp the spirit of kindness and generosity. It’s important that we, the adults, also thank our children for being thoughtful, kind, and caring.
  • Create a routine of gratitude. The dinner table is a wonderful place for togetherness and connection. Go around the table and ask each family member to describe what he or she is grateful for (from that day or the week). In other words, work gratitude into your daily or weekly conversations.
  • Look beyond what’s material. If you ask your child what he’s grateful for, he may tell you it’s his favorite toy or game. Take it a step further and talk about the person who gave him the toy by saying, “That was so sweet of your friend to buy that for you. What a good friend!” In other words, communicate that it’s the thought that counts.
  • Allow them to contribute. The more children contribute to household chores, the more they realize how much effort goes into caring for them. Let them help with setting the table, or sorting the whites from the laundry basket. Learn more here.
  • Get them excited about giving. As we enter the holiday season, ask your kids to come up with ideas about what they would like to give, rather than receive. Toothbrushes for a homeless shelter? Crayons for a children’s hospital? They will love the feeling this brings and are likely to remember it. Here are some more ideas on how you and your family can give back!

How can you keep your child grounded in gratitude during the gift-giving season?

  • Ease in! Open one gift at a time, avoiding the all-at-once, paper-ripping frenzy. Talk about who gave each gift before you open it, and how thoughtful the person was to have given it.
  • Put it away for a rainy day. Toddlers can be overwhelmed by a large volume of gifts. Put half of them away and surprise them over the course of the year.
  • Create handmade gifts. Put more emphasis on the celebration rather than presents. Make cookies, handmade cards, and decorative ornaments.

Sources: J.Witte, Huffington Post; C. Latvala, American Baby 2005

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