The holiday season is a time to give thanks for both family and blessings and to show appreciation for all those who enrich our lives. It is the perfect time to teach children the concept of gratitude by helping to explain what it means and why it is so important to practice it in everyday life.

Recent studies have shown that children of all ages – even infants and toddlers – can reap numerous benefits from practicing gratitude and, ultimately, live healthier lives. Research completed by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkley, concluded that grateful individuals are 25 percent happier and, overall, more joyful, interested, determined, and enthusiastic. They tend to be less envious and materialistic and are more prone to forming supportive, lasting relationships with others.

These results have led many parents to think about how they can foster a sense of gratitude in their children and nurture it for the long term. While there is no golden gratitude ticket out there, below are a few tips which may be helpful in raising grateful children.

  • Be Patient: It takes time for children to understand what being grateful really means and how they can demonstrate it through their actions. Don’t condemn them if they do not always say, “thank you.” Remind them over and over, but then move on.
  • Be a Role Model: Remember to be a good example yourself as a parent and person. Always say ‘thank you.’ Praise kind, generous people and those who have gone out of their way to help you. Treat each and every person with respect, not just those in positions of power or prestige. Perhaps, most importantly, show gratitude for your own children in your daily words and deeds.
  • Establish Gratitude Traditions: Make a point as a family to openly discuss what you are grateful for each day. You can also have your children write out (or say aloud if they are too young to write or draw) a list of things they are grateful for alongside their holiday or birthday wish list.
  • Mandate Thank You Notes: Thank you notes never go out of style and make children put a little extra time and thought into giving thanks. Encourage children, including toddlers, to make homemade thank you cards when possible.
  • Connect Gratitude with Spirituality: If you are spiritual or regularly attend religious services, use this time to remind your children to count their blessings and to remember they are part of a larger community in which people need to respect and help one another. This can be a natural connection as many religions are founded upon basic gratitude principles and tenets.
  • Volunteer: Make service a part of your life and that of your family life. Food kitchens and animal shelters can be places where children can provide critical assistance while seeing first-hand the positive impact of their actions. The holiday season provides ample opportunities for children to give back through toy, clothing, and food drives associated often with their daycares, schools, and churches. Be sure to take part in these activities and explain why they are important and who their donations are helping.
  • Read Books: There are a number of wonderful children’s books that discuss gratitude. “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein is one of my personal favorites. Sometimes children digest concepts better through storytelling and illustrations. Ask your librarian for a list of age-appropriate recommendations.

The key thing to keep in mind with gratitude is that it really does start at home. No one is born innately grateful, but rather it is a learned behavior and mindset that needs to be constantly reinforced. Parents should not forget that the ultimate goal of raising a grateful child is not that they always say thank you (and make you look like the parent of the year to your friends). Rather, it is about helping children grow up to become adults who truly embrace the principles of gratitude in their own lives and work to better the lives of others and their community.

About the Author:
Gladys Ruiz is the Director of Little Children Schoolhouse in Brookline, MA. After more than 10 years working in Early Childhood Education, Gladys opened the Little Children Schoolhouse to provide a nurturing, loving environment—an extension of her student’s home and family life—in Brookline. Pre-K, Preschool and Daycare programs for toddlers and infants include extra activities, such as weekly music, yoga, cooking, science activities, and field trips. Both full day and part-time enrollment are available.