Teaching kids to be thankful is more than just getting them to ‘say the magic words’. Teaching our kids to be thankful is a fundamental life skill that can shape their attitudes, behaviors, and overall well-being.
These four simple tips for teaching kids to be thankful will help you instill a real sense of gratitude in your kids, and help them navigate the social skills of being thankful.
“What are the magic words?”
My twins were three when a family member asked them this question, trying to encourage them to say thank you.
They both stopped and thought for a moment, and then replied…
I am not one to force or coerce my kids into saying please and thank you, which is why my girls didn’t know what magic word their Aunt was talking about, but just because I don’t push my kids into saying an automatic, rote ‘thank you’, doesn’t mean that I don’t think it is important.
Gratitude can be a difficult concept for young children to understand as they are naturally quite self centred when they are little. This is totally developmentally appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers, but important to know so you don’t have unrealistic expectations when it comes to your young child being or saying thankful. But even young children will learn what gratitude is if it is modelled appropriately and as they grow they become more able to empathise, and more appreciative.
Learning to say thankyou is a common social skill, but more importantly learning to be thankful is a powerful tool for our children’s overall happiness.
How to Teach Children to Be Thankful
Saying thank you goes beyond just rote phrases and good manners.
Thankfulness is important.
Being thankful, really genuinely grateful, is something I want my children to know, recognise, and express, rather than just parroting words or phrases when expected
Being grateful is so intertwined with happiness.
If you can notice the good things, even during hard moments, and be thankful for them you are more likely to manage the hard stuff and be happy, in spite of the tough times.
If you can notice the good in others, even when they are different, or difficult, and be thankful for them, you are more likely to feel happy, and to make others feel happy.
But how do we begin to teach children to be thankful?
Even our littlest kids learn by watching us, so practice gratitude yourself, often, and be loud about it.
Notice the good things in life, even the little things, and talk about them. Talk about how they make you feel and why you are thankful for them. It can be as simple as remarking about how thankful you are for a sunny day, or time to snuggle with your kids. Older kids will appreciate hearing about bigger reasons you are thankful – that you have a safe place to live, and a healthy family. The more you notice and talk about the things you are thankful for the easier it gets, and you’ll benefit from this mindset too!
Make an effort to thank people in your life, out loud. Make an effort to notice people in the broader community too and talk about why you appreciate them. Talk about why you are thankful and how you feel when you are thankful.
Thank Your Kids
One of the best ways for a child to understand gratitude is to experience someone being grateful for them. So notice the things your kids do and genuinely thank them. Don’t just say a quick ‘thanks’ explain what they did and why you appreciate it eg. “Thanks so much for helping set the table that has made getting dinner ready so much easier for me”.
Thanking your kids in a genuine way is such a powerful parenting tool. Not only will help your kids learn about gratitude, but it will improve their self esteem, and they will be more likely to help out, and I guarantee the more you thank them for helping the more they will notice the things you do and genuinely thank you too… and that is a huge boost when you are a busy overwhelmed parent that feels like no one notices the things you do!
Try Some Gratitude Activities.
There are lots of fun activities you can do with your kids to help them learn about and practice gratitude.
Make a thankyou card for someone (use your free printable thankyou card templates), or use our free printable ‘because’ cards and encourage your kids to write down why they appreciate someone. These cards are great for giving to community members to show your gratitude.
Teach Your Kids about the Manners of Saying Thankyou.
Saying thankyou is a social skill that we all want our children to develop, but sometimes it can be a little tricky for young children to understand, and remember. So rather than prompting your young child with a phrase like ‘what’ the magic word?’ that simply teaches them to parrot the words ‘thank you; without understanding, remind or prompt your child by saying thank you for them.
When you say thank you for your child, make sure you elaborate and say why your child might be thankful – ‘thank you so much for the gift, Sarah will love playing with that’ – that will help your child match the feelings with the words.
Older children are ready to understand the manners of saying thankyou, but this can still be tricky to understand. One tricky question you might come across is ‘why do I have to say thank you if I am not really thankful? Isn’t that lying?’
Teach your children about manners and how having ‘good manners’ can show that you care for and respect people around you, even if those ‘good manners’ are not important to you. Explain to your kids ahead of time if they are likely to be in a situation where ‘thank yous’ are expected eg a birthday party or family event so they what to expect. And no matter how old your kids are, if they are struggling, or forgetting, step in and say thank you for them, doing that once is often enough to remind them and they will then be able to manage it on their own.
Teaching My Kids to Be Thankful.
By doing these four simple things, not only has it helped my kids to understand gratitude and be more thankful, but it has helped me too.
Practicing being thankful to teach my kids, has paid off in terms of my own happiness and ability to cope with tough stuff, and has also paid off in terms of being able to parent better and cope with situations better.
The more I practice looking for the good in things and being thankful for them, the more I notice the good without having to try.
When my big boy comes home from school in a foul mood I am able to look past the prickly temperament and harsh words and see that this is just a tired boy reacting to a long day at school… and how thankful I am that he is settled at school and enjoying it, and I tell him that.
When one of my girls drops a big tub of yoghurt all over the floor, instead of only seeing the mess to be cleaned, and the time wasted when I was already busy, I stop and notice how she takes responsibility for her mistake and begins to clean up without question or complaint… and how thankful I am to see my girls growing into young people who are responsible for their actions, but who don’t dwell on mistakes, and I tell her that.
The more I have been grateful, the more I have said thank you, the more my children have done the same.
No, my children have not suddenly become empathetic saints who thank everyone for every little thing, but since I’ve been taking the time to tell them why I am thankful for things they do, they’ve learned how it feels to be thanked, they’ve learned that others really do appreciate their efforts, they’ve learned that small things, like saying thank you, can have a big impact
So when my girls thank me for figuring out how to put mods onto their minecraft install, or when my big boy throws his arms around me and says ‘thanks for my awesome birthday presents’ three months after his birthday, or when my small boy randomly kisses me and says ‘fanks mum’…. that’s when I realise that they are starting to understand this big huge concept of gratefulness in a way that asking them to say a ‘magic word’ could never teach them.
More Gratitude Activities for Kids
Have you made an effort to teach your kids about gratitude? If you’ve got some tips or ideas for teaching kids to be thankful please share in the comments below.
Here are a few fun gratitude crafts and activities to try with your kids: