Six Ways to Foster Gratitude in Young Children

13 December 2017

tips to encourage gratitude in preschoolers

Experiencing and expressing gratitude for preschoolers is a learned process. It is one that requires a certain level of inner reflection and introspection. A young child has to be able to think about and be aware that something is special and worthy in their life. Research also supports that this skill can benefit a child’s life. Children who are grateful have more positive attitudes toward their families and school. 

As adults, research confirms that those who frequently feel and express gratitude benefit too. They appear to enjoy their work more, to be more optimistic and energetic, to make progress toward personal goals, and to be more likely to help or support others than individuals who do not experience gratitude. So, as with any other social skill such as taking turns, patience or compassion, I want you to encourage you to start the practice of gratitude with your preschooler now.

Here are six tips to help your little one learn to experience and express gratitude:

  1. Make "thank-you’s" mean something.  Rather than simply teaching your preschooler to say a perfunctory thank you after receiving a gift, you can teach children why they should say thank you. For example, “Thank you grandma for the new jacket. It will keep me warm and toasty.” “Thank you for the sandwich, mom, I was so hungry.”  Because gratitude is an acquired behavior, consistent support and encouragement from you enables your child to develop the skills necessary to experience and express gratitude.
  2. Encourage your preschooler to be mindful. Help your little one be mindful of people, events, activities, and things for which they can and should be grateful. Gently remind them, without nagging, about the many positive aspects of their lives, particularly in comparison to other children who may not be as fortunate. Nagging itself is a less than positive way to get your preschooler’s attention. Many times little ones tune you out when they know you’ll keep repeating yourself. So, make it a habit to be grateful. Try to find at least one thing to be grateful for everyday and chat about it with your little one. Because receiving birthday or holiday gifts isn't the only time to talk about being thankful, right? Have your little one reflect on why they are grateful and communicate it often. For example, “Aren’t these oranges delicious? We’re lucky to have them all through the winter.” Or, “I see how you enjoy playing with your blocks. It sure was nice of Aunt Joan to give you them.”
  3. Draw thank-you pictures. As a great grandmother, I really enjoy seeing my great granddaughter, Hermione’s thank you drawings every day on my refrigerator! Your preschooler’s thank you doesn’t have to be a written statement. It can be a simple drawing given or sent to the gift giver.  Simply ask your child to include why they are thankful for the gifts. If they’d like, you can also have your preschooler dictate to you what she wants to say in the thank you, which you can then write down on their special drawing. For more creative ideas for making thank-you drawings with your young one, check out our Skilly-do Painting activities and Print Making activities.
  4. Keep a preschool gratitude journal. Start a journal of a few particular things that your child is grateful for and why. He can tell you what thoughts for you to write down for him. Your child can grateful for absolutely anything-- people, events, things or activities. For example, “I am grateful that my friend, Jason, came over to play with me today. And that we didn't fight.” Or, “I am thankful for making cookies with mom today.” Be sure to date each entry so that you can read them back to your child and enjoy the memories later.
  5. Model gratitude. Remember to say thank-you when your child does something for you. Chat with your child about what you are grateful for in your life, including them, of course! It’s important not to do this in a lecturing or condescending manner. Rather, do so in a way that encourages your little one to be more mindful of their blessings and the importance of acknowledging them to themselves and others.

Fostering gratitude benefits everyone. Learning to have a thankful, positive attitude  begins early in life, so give your little one the gift of the ability to express gratitude. Try our Chatty-do, What's something that makes you smile? to help get your little one thinking a bit more introspectively. And our activity, Pinecone Bird Feeder is a fun way do something nice for our feathered friends. Let us know, which of the suggestions in this blog do you find most appropriate for your preschooler?  Tell us about it!