Avoid spoiling your child! Learn how to teach kids gratitude and practice thankfulness for the abundance they have.
Many of us will (thankfully) never face true hardship at its grittiest.
The kind that leaves you walking miles or taking three buses just to buy your groceries. Health diagnoses that leave you weeks or months to live. Most of us don’t worry about diseases we drink from our water. And we don’t live in a one-room makeshift home where owning a tin roof over yours is a sign of wealth.
Still, sometimes we lack the empathy for these issues. We’re buffered by our many comforts and the regular hum of our day-to-day life. Our young kids especially don’t know about these travesties from experience (as they shouldn’t).
How to teach kids gratitude
It’s easy to mope and feel down, even comparing ourselves to others who seem to have it so easy. From the tiniest irritation to legitimate obstacles we face, we tend to dwell on the negative above all else.
Whenever I feel scared, anxious, or annoyed at my predicament, I turn to the one surefire thing to bring things to perspective: Gratitude.
Being grateful is especially important for parents to pass on to our kids, as it can truly change how we perceive our circumstances. Take a look at how to teach kids gratitude:
1. Don’t vent about first-world problems
We’ve all complained about the internet going down or the car needing a new timing belt. We’ve argued with customer service about returning an online order. They ruin our days and disrupt our routine and flow.
But sometimes we take it too far: We yell and let the issue consume us. Meanwhile, our kids overhear us complaining about and enlarging an issue that may not even be a big deal in the bigger picture.
Keep the venting away from the kids, or explain your frustrations in a calmer manner.
And if you do vent about first-world problems, follow it up with a reminder of what you’re grateful for. “Ugh, we have no hot water coming out of the faucet! Oh well, at least we still have some water at all.”
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2. Expose your kids to different lives
It’s no wonder travel is one of the best teachers out there. When you witness different worlds, you return home grateful for all you have. The same applies to kids who’ve lived in different countries or even cities.
Granted, not all of us are able to travel (nor should we do so too often) or live like a local for an extended period of time. Instead, try these ideas:
- Read books about people’s differences, cultures and uniqueness.
- Encourage a variety of friends.
- Volunteer at local food banks, pet shelters, tree planting, and non-profit events.
- Share family stories about perseverance.
- Discuss the environment, the news (appropriately), and community events.
3. Don’t give your kids too many toys
Giving your kids too many toys has downsides, including a dwindling appreciation of what they have. When you have fifty stuffed animals, it gets harder to be grateful for all of them.
Instead, limit the toys you give. Donate or sell the ones they’ve outgrown, or give “experience” gifts with invaluable memories. Besides, you just might encourage their imagination. With fewer toys, they’ll have more opportunities to make their own out of household items and crafts.
4. Create a gratitude tradition
Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to start traditions and teach gratitude.
Play an anonymous game of “What are you thankful for” with your family and have everyone guess who wrote what. Draw a tree on a poster or make a wreath and write your thanks on leaves and glue them on. Maybe every night is a tradition of giving thanks, as each person says what they’re grateful for.
You can also have the kids write thank you cards or send thank you messages. No matter the age, involve them in acknowledging the people who gave them gifts. They can send thank you cards in the mail, or record videos of them thanking others for their gifts.
By being aware of their blessings, they feel positive about their lives, even when times are tough. And when bad days happen, they’ll remember the amazing things that have turned out all right.
5. Don’t compare or pine
Watch your language when your kids hear you pine for something or compare yourself to others. Let’s say you visited a friend’s house, which happens to be much larger and grander than yours. Based on your raves and vents, they might feel like their home isn’t as good.
Don’t focus so much on what you don’t have, especially by comparing yourself to others. “I wish I had they money to buy even half the clothes she buys,” for instance.
The less you try to be like others, the more they’ll appreciate what they have.
Stop chasing “more” and be grateful for “enough and then some.” “More” is an elusive goal and an endless cycle of never having enough. Teaching your kids to appreciate what they have will curb comparisons they might make to others.
With gratitude, they remember how blessed they already are. They don’t assume that another person’s success is a measure against your family’s supposed failures. Everyone has both good and bad things happening in their lives, even if it’s not plain to see.
6. Model the behavior you want to see
I’ve long been a fan of being our kids’ role models. How can we emphasize the importance of being thankful when we ourselves don’t do it?
Practice gratitude every day, from the breakfast you eat every morning to the fun bike ride you took that afternoon. You can also find something to be grateful for, no matter the situation. A heavy downpour of rain can be a blessing to your garden.
Gratitude rubs off on them the more you practice it. You’ll soon notice that they’ll say phrases like, “I’m so glad we have these crayons to color with.”
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When terrible things happen, it’s so easy to feel like most of the world is just as bad, or that there’s not enough good to balance the negativity in your life.
But with gratitude, you remember that the good in your life far outnumbers the bad.
Relish little things like drinking a warm cup of tea and eating fresh pancakes on Saturdays. Acknowledge the larger blessings you may have overlooked, like having a car to drive or a home to live in. Read with your kids about different cultures and experiences, and model the gratitude you want to see in them.
And just as important, thank them for everything they’ve given you. This might mean saying thank you for the impromptu hug in the morning, or for the artwork they drew for you.
Because we do have so much to be grateful for. I’m sitting here typing on a computer with a heater on and all my meals planned out for the week. Even if we’re struggling through challenges, we can always remind ourselves of all that we are blessed with.
p.s. Check out The Thank You Book by Mary Lyn Ray, a wonderful children’s book about being thankful:
Get more tips:
- Do You Have an Ungrateful Child? What to Do:
- 10 Children’s Books about Making the World a Better Place
- How to Raise a Kind Child
- How to Raise a Non Materialistic Child
- 11 Multicultural Children’s Books to Read with Your Child
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and grab your copy of How to Unspoil Your Child below—at no cost to you: