How to Teach Children to be Grateful

By Jessica Streit

The holiday season is over, and yet it is the perfect time to teach your children about gratitude. For those kids who celebrate Santa Claus, it is easy to feel like they deserve to receive gifts. It is our jobs as parents to make sure they are grateful for what they receive and able to appropriately express their gratitude to the giver.

Parents are often heard saying those magical words to their child; “what do you say?” But are we explaining why we should be saying that? Are we providing lessons that teach your children to say “thank you” and mean it? In case you feel like you aren't doing enough, here are a few ways to ensure your child is able to be more grateful. 

Borrow from Therapists and Educators 

Adopt a common activity used with therapists and educators who are teaching social skills. The use of social stories can help you teach your child how to show gratitude. A social story is a simple story that explains how to deal with a situation or behave during an activity. It explains events in a way that will children understand. With repeated exposure a child with special needs will learn the concept that is being taught or will have a reduction in anxiety before a new activity is begun. 

You can do something like this with your own child, but it doesn't have to be as complex as writing a story. Try setting the scene for your child. Describe a time when they'll need to express their gratitude, such as when they receive a gift. Practice how to say “thank you” and show their emotions to the giver. 

Write a Note 

Always have your child write a thank you note after they have received a gift, even if they said thank you when they received it. Writing a short note gives your child more opportunity to think about why someone gave them a gift and how lucky they are to receive it. It also gives you the chance to encourage these thoughts and share a story of other children who may not be as lucky.

Make Giving to Others a Part of Your Life 

When my children started complaining about not having the newest of toys or technology, I knew it was time to make some changes. I decided to adopt a charity as a family. I chose one that I thought they could relate to, The Ronald McDonald House. I wanted my boys to know that even though we didn't have a lot of money and they weren't receiving the newest, most popular toys, we were still very lucky.  I had a conversation with them about how some kids are sick and can't sleep in their own beds. I told them about living in a hospital and we discussed how difficult it must be to be sick. We all decided that even though we didn't have a lot, we were healthy and that made us very lucky. 

We did some research about our charity on the internet and decided that The Ronald McDonald House was going to receive a donation from us as a family. Now my children and I put a small portion of our income away to donate annually. My children put away $1 every pay day from their allowance to be donated. They enjoy making a trip to McDonald's to put the money in the donation box. I've seen a change in their thinking since we started doing this. They seem to understand more and feel grateful for what they receive as gifts now. 

Say 'No' Occasionally 

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your child is to tell them “no.” Doing so provides you a chance to teach them lessons, set boundaries, and control behavior. A child who is not told “no” often will grow up with a sense of entitlement and have difficulty with empathy. Saying “no” gives your child time to work for a reward and avoids the addiction so many of us feel towards instant gratification. Your child will thank you when they are older for the boundaries you set when they were young. 

Our sweet, adorable children are bound to have a moment where they forget to be gracious receivers. With these tips, they will be well on their way to becoming adults who are grateful and regularly giving back to others.

Jessica Streit is an educator, freelance writer and single mom of 2 boys. Her writing can be found on a variety of topics including personal finance, education and parenting. She blogs about overcoming debt and living a royal life on a budget at The Debt Princess.