I am always exploring new and better ways to raise my energetic daughter into the humble, empowered, confident woman she is destined to be.
Teaching her to practice gratitude for the many blessings in her life is at the top of my list. Intentionally reflecting on the things we have to be grateful for offers endless benefits for children and adults alike—a value I hope she will carry with her for the rest of her life.
The journey to having gratitude in parenting requires a hearty dose of patience and understanding. It is perfectly normal for kids to ask for new toys and gifts, especially during the holidays or while shopping at a store with colorful and tempting new gadgets. It’s also key to realize that children are bombarded with hundreds of advertisements each day, and at school, they are constantly reminded of all the cool toys and new gadgets their friends have that they are missing out on.
There are times when my daughter will beg for new toys when we are out shopping, and while I’ve come to accept that this is normal behavior for all children, it has taught me to implement some fun activities to help her understand the path of gratitude.
Practicing gratitude together has been beneficial for each of us individually and as a team.
Here are some fun and effective gratitude habits to practice with your little ones:
1. Create an allowance plan with chores
Creating an allowance plan involving simple chores around the house to earn money to buy the toys they want is a great way to teach children the value of their possessions. Plus, teaching them how to manage their hard-earned cash introduces basic budgeting skills at a young age, which is an invaluable life skill not taught in schools.
When children have to “work” for the extra things they want (toys, fun things, candy, gadgets), it gives them a sense of hard-earned accomplishment, which feels empowering and helps them create a mental connection between the value of the things they own and the effort that went into making it happen.
2. Make a wishlist to teach delayed gratification
Have kids create a wishlist of things they want instead of buying them immediately when they ask. For example, when they are at a store and ask for a toy they want, instead of buying it for them then and there, have them create a wishlist to add items to for an upcoming holiday or birthday. Encourage them to take time to think about the items they add and to only keep the items on the list if they still want the toy a week or two after they’ve added it. This teaches them delayed gratification and helps them value the things they receive more deeply.
3. Show appreciation for gifts and blessings with thank-you notes
Have children take the time to write personalized thank-you notes after birthday parties and holidays addressed to anyone who gives them a gift. Encourage children to not stress over spelling or writing—the message of gratitude is the most important thing. This practice teaches them to acknowledge people who do kind things for them and the value it brings into their lives.
4. Make a “most prized possessions” box
Get crafty and have children make a personalized box to hold only their most prized possessions. They can have fun with this activity by decorating the box with stickers or markers and putting their name on the side. The box should not be too big in size, this way they can only fit their most prized possessions inside: a sentimental teddy bear, a doll, their favorite toy trucks, a seashell from a beach vacation, or anything that brings them genuine joy.
Having children focus on their most important possessions through this minimization technique teaches them to value and feel grateful for the things they already have without feeling like they always need more to attain happiness. Additionally, when they ask for a new toy or a gift while you are out shopping, ask them if that toy or gift is special enough to replace it with one thing that is already in their box.
Encourage them to take time to think about this important decision.
5. Practice gratitude journaling
Young or old, gratitude journaling is a practice that has the potential to drastically improve the quality of life by allowing us to take the time to focus entirely on our blessings. Taking five to ten minutes each day to sit down and write about the things we are most thankful for is a wonderfully effective way to bring life back to a positive perspective, particularly during challenging times.
Kids will realize that, even on their most difficult, unhappy days, they will still be able to write about the things they are grateful for. This practice helps them develop a true gratitude mindset.
6. Write gratitude letters
Writing gratitude letters varies slightly from writing thank you letters because gratitude letters don’t need to be written specifically for the purpose of thanking someone for a gift per se, but can be used as a general tool to show gratitude toward someone without reason. Have your kids pick up a pencil and paper during downtime on weekends and address a letter to an aunt, cousin, grandparent, friend, or classmate to express gratitude for the role they play in their life. This technique also teaches letter-writing and helps children focus on the values of relationships.
7. Be a good role model: appreciate the big and small things in life together
As a parent, our behaviors and tendencies have a huge impact on the ways our kids interact with the world and their feelings about themselves. So really, teaching gratitude with our kids starts with ourselves. Be mindful of your self-talk around your little ones, aim to speak in a way that focuses on the good things in life, the things that are going right, and the things to be thankful for.
Take time with children to pause and notice the small joys in everyday life, vocally appreciate beautiful things in nature together, discuss when someone nearby does something kind, and give praise to your kid when you see them doing something kind.
These small things will reach them deeply and impact them positively for the rest of their lives.