Kathryn Leslie Gratitude The Journal
Nov 13, 2018

Teaching Gratitude to Children

By Kathryn Leslie

Kathryn Leslie Gratitude The Journal

“An attitude of gratitude” may be the secret to a happy life. Studies have shown that gratitude actually helps improve both physical and mental health. If so, teaching gratitude is just as important as teaching our children to read and write.

How can we help our children become more thankful and express gratitude in a society so focused on the next big toy, or the newest version of the latest electronic gadget?

Before kids can simply be more thankful, we need to show them how to reflect on the good things in life. Creating an awareness of gratitude can be a powerful lesson that will guide them into becoming more grateful adults.

Make a “thankful” chain: Cut strips of paper and ask your children to write down the things, people, or moments they are thankful for in their lives. They can write about anything that brings them joy, such as the family dog, their bicycle, friends, grandparents, their favorite stuffed animal or cozy blanket, the tall oak tree they love to climb, or even being part of a soccer team!

Connect the chain using a dot of glue or tape. Your children will be amazed by the length of their “thankful” chains! Use fall colors or craft paper with autumn designs, and drape the chain from a staircase or mantle for a Thanksgiving decoration.

Similar ideas include keeping a gratitude journal where children draw or write about things they are thankful for each day during the month of November (or throughout the year). Or make a Count Your Blessings jar filled with little notes of thanks or moments that made us smile.

The best things in life are free: Take a nature walk and enjoy all that our area has to offer! Wake up early and watch the sunrise on an empty beach. Ride bikes through a park, and collect vibrant colored fall leaves. Take a walk beside a river or lake and just breath in the fall air. Talk with your child about how lucky and thankful we are to live in such a great state surrounded by natural beauty.

Help your child show appreciation to others. A hand-written thank you note or picture can make anyone smile.  Add a cider donut or homemade treat, and you’ve made someone’s entire day! Deliver the treat or card to the friendly crossing guard who greets your child each morning. Decorate a stone with a thankful message and leave it in a neighbor’s mailbox.

Go with your child to the police station to deliver some brownies. Have kids draw a picture for the cafeteria workers, or bring a pumpkin candle to their piano teacher. Showing appreciation to others through small and simple gestures helps young children create habits for a lifetime.

Finally, this season is the optimal time to start year-long projects that help others. Donations to food banks and other charitable organizations are common in November, but help your children begin these activities now – and continue them throughout the year.

For instance, collect books for the Bridge of Books Foundation, which provides books to children throughout Monmouth County. Volunteer with your children to help pack bags for the Blessing Bag Brigade of New Jersey, which bundles necessities in gallon bags to hand out to homeless throughout the state. Take some time to sit down as a family and decide what charitable projects you will take on this year.

And at the end of each day, ask your child to tell you their “3-2-1” – three things they are thankful for, two moments that made them smile, and one way they made someone else smile today. This daily reflection, combined with small gestures to show appreciation, are just a few simple ways to help your child develop an attitude of gratitude – which some say happens to be the secret to a happy life.