Mom and children writing thank you note

A Family Focus on Thanks

Fostering gratefulness can get lost in the mix of overseeing homework and scheduling activities. Try a few simple ways to put family appreciation into action.

When you teach your children the art of gratitude, someday they’ll thank you. Really.

But there are many other reasons to teach thankfulness to your children. Researchers have found that children who practice grateful thinking have better attitudes toward family and even schoolwork compared with kids who don’t. What’s more, they have higher levels of enthusiasm, determination, and energy.

“Fostering gratefulness is important so that children don’t grow up feeling entitled, thinking that they deserve things that are unearned,” says Lawrence Balter, PhD, a psychologist and parenting expert and the author of Dr. Balter’s Child Sense. “Children can begin to understand that other people do a lot of things for them and they should recognize it.”

Here are six ways you can nurture your children to be more grateful.

Start early

Even children as young as 2 or 3 years old should be encouraged to express their thanks—even if they only yet have a rudimentary sense of gratitude. “When a relative remembers a child’s birthday, use it as a teaching moment,” Dr. Balter says. “Point out that it was thoughtful to remember the day and to go through the trouble of getting a gift, which the person didn’t have to do.”  

Write thank-you notes

Even if a child can’t write the bulk of each note, have him or her “sign” them and explain what they’re for. Add an element of fun to the ritual by letting your child pick the paper and envelopes.

Go around the table

As sort of a warm-up before Thanksgiving, every few days go around the dinner table and have everyone in the family express thanks for another person. Encourage your kids to be thankful for people—a teacher, family member, neighbor, or friend—instead of things like video games.

Have a donation day

About once a month, gather some of your household goods and used clothes. Have your children help with selecting what will be given away, packing items up, and even dropping them off at a donation center.

Volunteer together

An activity as simple as picking up trash in a park or fixing some food to bring to someone in need can help children connect to gratitude. Offer choices and let them pick the type of activity, so they will be more involved.

Don’t overdo it

“You don’t want to be too heavy-handed,” Dr. Balter says. “The best touch is a light touch, so your child’s thank-yous aren’t insincere.” Instead of just making your kids simply say “thank you” for something, ask them to specifically express why they are thankful—it makes the gratitude their own.