Gratitude: Giving Thanks with Children All Year Long

Gratitude: Giving Thanks with Children All Year Long

Feeling grateful and giving thanks is not just for the Thanksgiving holiday; it’s for every day of the year. With all the problems and responsibilities of being an adult, it’s not always easy to feel thankful, especially if you have a nagging headache, are dealing with a difficult work situation or woke up on the cranky side of the bed.

On most days, however, we can take a moment or two in our busy lives to remind ourselves how lucky we are for friends and families, a beautiful sunrise, a tasty meal or a passing cloud.       

Young children are not innately thankful for what they have and receive on a daily basis. But even at an early age, they can learn to feel thankfulness and be genuinely thankful when the adults in their lives show them the way with kindness, appreciation and mindfulness.

Helping Children Learn Thankfulness

  • Be a Role Model – Parents and caregivers are the most important teachers in a young child’s life. When your child hears you saying “Thank you” and “I really appreciate that,” she or he learns the significance of valuing others. Community helpers, like bus drivers, police officers and crossing guards enjoy being recognized when they are genuinely thanked.
  • Verbalize Your Positive Thoughts – After saying “Thank you” to someone who has just held the door for you, take time to speak to your child about what just happened. Saying “Wasn’t that nice the way that person held the door for us?” helps your child understand (and internalize) the reason for saying “Thank you.”
  • Read “Giving Thanks” Books Anytime – Nothing beats snuggling up with your child and reading wonderful picture books or board books. Here are three examples that effectively reinforce the message of thankfulness: Thankful Animals, Thankful Me by Steve Metzger and Angelina Ardinskaya (Familius), Thankful Thanksgiving by Deb Aronson and Benedetta Caprioti (Cottage Door Press) and Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson (Margaret K. McElderry Books).
  • Create a “Family Thanksgiving” Book – Gather family members in your living room and take turns thinking about all the things you’re thankful for. Write down everyone’s ideas and put each one on a separate piece of paper. (This list can grow on subsequent days when people remember other things they are thankful for.) Illustrate your individual pages with crayons, markers or colored pencils. Fasten them together and you will have your personal “Family Thanksgiving” book.
  • Write a “Thanksgiving” Story with Your Child – All you need is a piece of paper, a pencil and your child’s imagination to invent an original story. Ask your child to think of a favorite animal and now your have your title, for example, “The Thankful Bunny.” Encourage her or him to create a story where this animal started off being selfish, but learned the importance of being appreciative and thankful. If you wish, ask your child to draw accompanying artwork. Share your “Thanksgiving” story with other family members.
  • Take a Gratitude Walk – “The best things in life are free” are not just throw-away words to a popular old song – they’re absolutely true! And there’s no better way to understand the meaning of these words than by taking a walk in the park and noticing the amazing features of our natural world. Together, you and your child can stroll along and take time to notice all the things you’re grateful for: the sun, the sky, flowers, birds, trees, even a puddle, etc.  It’s never too early to begin appreciating the wonders of planet Earth!
  • Look at Photos of Family Members and Friends – Bring out your photo albums – or look at the photos on your phone – and reminisce about families and friends: those still with you and those who have passed. Talk about the kindnesses these people exhibited, what they mean to you, and how grateful you are that they were (or still are) in your lives. Children can be encouraged to discuss their sweet memories of grandma, grandpa, et al.

Expressing thankfulness is an important behavior that can be taught and nurtured by the loving adults in children’s lives. Like having good manners, conveying one’s gratitude to others will help your child get along better in social situations and live a happier, more fulfilled life.


About the Author

Steve Metzger is the award-winning author of more than 80 children’s books, including Thankful Animals, Thankful Me: The Way I Act (approved for classroom use by the California Department of Education); Detective Blue (IRA-CBC Children’s Choice List; and Yes, I Can Listen!” - Eureka! Honor Award winner from the California Reading Association. His latest, The Bumble Brothers: Crazy for Comics! is a middle-grade graphic novel chosen by the Junior Library Guild as a Gold Standard Selection.

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