While teaching children to participate in the practice of gratitude can prove to be a bit of a task; the return on investment in their emotional well-being is unlimited and long term. Making gratitude fun and meaningful can introduce kids to a lifelong appreciation for the world around them and all that it has to offer.
Gratitude is a gift to be given to kids, enabling them with the ability to evoke positive emotions in their own lives.
Family practice of gratitude not only teaches children a lifelong ability to evoke positive emotions, it also builds deeper bonds within the family unit. Character counts and teaching kids that it does, starts with gratitude.
This article contains:
- A Gratitude Definition for Kids
- What are Gratitude Trees? (Printables + Ideas for Gratitude Leaves)
- Gratitude Activities for Kids
- Gratitude Drawings and Prompts
- Making a Gratitude Pumpkin Together (Video)
- How to Hold a Gratitude Scavenger Hunt?
- 5 Gratitude Coloring Pages for Kids
- 27 Great Gratitude Books for Kids
- Make a Gratitude Advent Calendar
- How to Create A Gratitude Chart
- Using Gratitude Rhymes to Teach Kids
- 5 Gratitude Word Searches to Use
- 11 Gratitude Videos for Kids
- A Take Home Message
A Gratitude Definition for Kids
The best teachers of gratitude are practitioners of gratitude. Parents, if you are not regularly increasing your own positive emotions through the practice of fully appreciating, how can you possibly expect your kids to begin? Monkey see, monkey do, after all.
According to a recent study (Halberstadt, 2018), there are different categories of gratitude that develop with age.
Concrete gratitude is the verbal “manners” type of gratitude, like an automatic “thank you” as a recognition of appreciation for something received.
Another type of gratitude is connective gratitude. This type is a fully understood and appreciated receipt of whatever has been given. The appreciation is returned in a meaningful and heartfelt way, benefiting both receiver and giver. For gratitude to be an effective way to increase happiness, it must be felt, and connective gratitude is the key.
Teaching kids about gratitude is an important job. Start by asking what they know about the subject. A crucial part of this job is helping children understand that gratitude is more than just saying “thank you.”
Children’s understanding of positive emotions can be a challenging conversation, as they are abstract and subjective. Gratitude is about focusing on what is good in our lives. Being thankful for all the things we already have is a daily practice. Sitting a young child down to explain this is less likely to fall on bored ears.
Showing a child gratitude in practice is the most powerful way to reinforce the definition. Take the time to demonstrate what it means to pause and appreciate the things we take for granted. Reveal what it is to be fully aware of your own blessings. Help them imagine what it would be like to live without Wi-Fi.
Developing an awareness of what is good is simple enough when you give this perspective often. Clean water, refrigeration, and a roof over our heads are all things not provided to all humans and can be appreciated more when the focus is on blessings. Modeling daily gratitude with consistency will instill an understanding that gratitude is a positive emotion that can be cultivated.
What Are Gratitude Trees? (Printables + Ideas for Gratitude Leaves)
Gratitude trees are physical opportunities to encourage the expression of appreciation. They can come in many forms. They are trees drawn or sculpted on paper or fabric, or even directly on the wall. The trees start barren. Blank leaves to be filled out with listings of gratitude are offered and added to the trees over a period of time.
Many of these trees begin to grow around Thanksgiving, but there’s no need to wait for a holiday to start this fun practice. Here are a few examples of places to begin:
The Miller tree began as a paper towel holder from the dollar store. Burlap ribbon was wrapped around the bottom and pipe cleaners were crafted all around it to create the top of the tree. A construction paper tree was then cut out and crafted into branches of a tree.
The tree was then taped to a wall at a local gym (with permission, of course). The leaves were cut from different colors of card stock and hole punched. A ribbon was tied on and gym patrons could grab a blank leaf from the tree to fill out with gratitude and add to the branches.
The instructions for the tree were posted next to the barren branches, so that people could add their gratitude leaves as they had the time. It was a joyful activity, as the tree grew and people began to include their own children in the fun.
Here are some additional links to some other beautifully made gratitude trees. Getting those creativity juices flowing with those kiddos is a tremendously connective activity. A little bit of effort will yield big results.
Here are some printables to start your own tree. Gratitude leaves can include prompts, but it is not required. Self-expression and creativity in the words of appreciation helps those positive emotions come to the surface and increases that connective gratitude.
Gratitude Activities for Kids
A common way to get kids to express gratitude is through a gratitude journal. Having to reflect daily on what they appreciate, gets kids primed for the concept of mindfulness. Having them motivated to quietly reflect can really be the hard part. A great way to get them started is with some pre-planned gratitude prompts.
Here are a few examples.
- “I am grateful for Mom and Dad when…”
- “I am grateful to learn…”
- “I am grateful to eat…”
- “I am grateful for my favorite…”
If they don’t want to take the time to write down their gratitude, an equally effective way to start the practice is by asking them to share 3 good things that happened in the last 24 hours.
In addition to the 3 good things, ask them to share how they contributed to those 3 good things. Sharing creates such a tremendous opportunity to bond with your kids about their day. This becomes especially helpful as kids approach and enter adolescence.
Thank You Notes
Encourage kids to write thank you notes to important people in their lives, without the receipt of a gift. It is a powerful activity for them to connect with their loved ones in a deeply meaningful way. These high-quality connections are mutually beneficial too. Increasing levels of contentment, happiness, and hope are all benefits enjoyed by those devoting time to practice gratitude (Emmons, 2003).
Gratitude Glass Jars
A gratitude jar is a great way to infuse gratitude into a group project. Decorate a jar together. Then have each family member put daily entries into the jar. At the end of the month, everyone can share in the family gratitude project by savoring what was appreciated together.
This project can be expanded to an annual jar too. Have each family member place one entry of something for which they’re grateful each month. Keep it in a tin for the year. Open it on New Year’s Eve and savor the pieces of gratitude entered throughout the year.
A Gratitude Chalkboard
This is a connective daily practice for the family. Imagine the bonding moments when your family simply writes appreciation for everyday things. Mom and Dad will know that their efforts are appreciated. The kid’s cooperation will be celebrated. Plus, adding to the chalkboard can be a spark of surprise throughout the day too. If you don’t want to invest the time or money into a chalkboard, sticky notes do the trick too.
Going on gratitude walks and having quiet respect for nature is an active way to bring mindfulness and appreciation to the forefront of kids’ minds. Adolescents in particular tend to open up a little more when they’re moving, rather than sitting down to talk, especially with parents.
Teaching children to leave nature for others to enjoy, instead of picking flowers and removing pieces of nature from the walk helps kids to respect that nature is for everyone. It helps them savor those moments outside too. Teaching them to leave no trace is a fantastic rule for them to understand that their behavior matters.
Family Gratitude Book
A family gratitude book is a very personal way to bring gratitude into the family. It can be included in family meetings and read aloud. Keep a picture of each family member at the front of a different sections of a notebook. The family can open the various sections of the book and write down moments they have appreciated that family member.
Creating a deep appreciation for each other is such an amazing way to help your children know how much they matter in your family. That deep sense of belonging bolsters self-efficacy and helps kids show up in the world with compassion and confidence.
Gratitude Paper Chains
Gratitude paper chains are fun ways to create a meaningful and crafty banner for your home. Cut out strips of various colored paper large enough to loop together. Each loop is added by a different person in the family expressing their gratitude on each. It can be done any time of year too.
Letters of Gratitude
If you want to encourage your family to become more engaged in their community, letters of gratitude to those who serve your community are a great way to start. Firemen, policemen, EMTs, and any other first responders you can think of receiving a letter of gratitude for their service to your community is powerful.
It creates a special link for your kids to what is provided for them. Librarians, postmen, and garbage men are a few more people working in your communities that would love to receive a letter of appreciation for the work that they do. Add a plate of cookies and hand deliver the letters for an even more impactful act of gratitude.
Gratitude stones are a fun and artistic activity to get your kids excited about appreciation. Have them paint a few stones with the word gratitude on it. When they are out in their world and see someone doing something that they feel grateful for, have them hand that person the stone.
Encourage this act of gratitude to be completed with the supervision of an adult. Then ask your child to have them pay it forward. A gratitude ripple gets started by your child in that moment. Pro-social behaviors are also opportunities for kids to learn how to effectively communicate out in the world.
Gratitude Vision Boards
Thankful vision boards are another creative way to get your kids focused on what gifts they already have in their lives. Grab a few old magazines and encourage your kids to cut out images or words that represent pieces of gratitude in their lives. Have them create a beautiful mural showing what they chose in an artistic way.
The Alphabet Thank You Game
The alphabet thank you game is a fun gratitude activity for boring car rides, or any other moments plagued with boredom. For each letter of the alphabet, in a chain, have each participant name something for which they’re thankful. It’s fun to watch kids come up with words to match the letters and reflect on their blessings at the same time.
Charity projects are a powerful way to reveal to your kids that they are blessed. Creating care packages for the homeless and having them in your car to give away is a continuous way to teach children compassion and appreciation for all they have.
Working at a food bank, or gathering needed goods for area charities is another great way to get kids involved. Encouraging kids to find a project they’re interested in is a powerful way to help them with motivation in a charitable endeavor as well.
Random acts of kindness
These are another avenue for creating positive affect, but they’re also a great way to bolster gratitude in children. Encourage them to participate in random acts of kindness, especially after receiving one. It’s like getting two benefits in one.
Gratitude Ping Pong
Here’s a fun interactive activity for the whole family. Grab a small, soft ball and partner up. For 5 minutes, pass the ball back and forth stating something you’re grateful for with each pass. It’s fun to watch participants in this game get more excited as the time progresses. This is a fantastic activity to include in sports practices too.
Difference maker research
This is a unique way to involve kids in appreciating people they haven’t even met. Have your child choose a person who is making a difference in the world around them. Find a book about them in the library and spend time learning about that difference together. Not only does this help your child appreciate that specific difference in the world, it helps to instill an understanding that having purpose in your actions makes a difference to people they might not know too.
Gratitude Drawings and Prompts
Younger kids may not have the cognitive ability to write down their gratitude in words. Getting them to express their thankfulness in drawings is a fun activity for this purpose. Little kids love to create and it’s a fun way to teach them what being grateful means. Little ones get very excited and can’t wait to share their masterpieces.
Here are 10 prompts to get you started.
- That makes you happy
- You couldn’t live without
- Someone that helps you
- That makes you smile
- You love to do
- You are thankful for
- Someone you love
- You think is fun
- That makes you feel good
- That makes you laugh
Making a Gratitude Pumpkin Together (Video)
This is a video highlighting the process of creating a gratitude pumpkin. There are different ways to complete the task, of course. Crafts give creative freedom.
Thanksgiving Day Craft For Kids: Thankful Pumpkins
Painting an actual pumpkin with sections, in which to write areas of gratitude, is another fun way to create a gratitude pumpkin with your kids. The trendy, white pumpkins are a perfect blank canvas to use.
Families could also paint smaller pumpkins with gracious phrases to give away. People in your lives would love to receive a heartfelt gift that your kids participated in creating. Expressing gratitude is always a good idea.
For Thanksgiving dinner, these teeny pumpkins can also be expressions of gratitude for your guests. Making them feel welcome with a gift of appreciation right at the table is a kind way to kick off a successful holiday. A parting gift of a little gratitude pumpkin keeps the gift of Thanksgiving going after the day too.
How to Hold a Gratitude Scavenger Hunt
This activity is fun to host anytime, but is even more fun in big groups, like family reunions. The first step is determining time limits and setting up boundaries. It’s important to keep everyone safe, as people get excited to collect. Create small groups, each one with a phone/camera.
Usually a group of 2-4 people is best. Hand each group a sheet to keep track of their photos of gratitude. These photos do not have to be taken in order.
Feel blessed list
- A challenge
- Something I’d like to share
- Someone older than me
- Recently discovered or learned
- Shows a vibrant color
- Has words on it
- Makes me feel strong
- Makes me laugh
- Makes me cry
- Represents my country
- Someone I love
5 Gratitude Coloring Pages for Kids
Here are some links to various sites offering printable coloring pages of gratitude for children. There are some that adults might enjoy too. Get those creative juices flowing with gratitude at the center.
- Supercoloring.com – available here;
- SavorGratitude Blog, visit this link;
- Coolmompicks.com – find some nice coloring PDFs here;
- Speechfoodie.com – here are the coloring pages; and
- TheSuccessSecrets.info – visit here for some Bible coloring pages.
27 Great Gratitude Books for Kids
This is a compilation of well-written children’s books with gratitude as a theme. Some of them are centered around the Thanksgiving holiday. Some of them are for daily use. Enjoy finding and sharing them with your kids. Sprinkle them in with your weekly reading to increase your kids’ awareness of what gratitude means.
- Thank you, Thanksgiving by David Milgrim – is a book about a young girl running a last-minute dinner errand for her mother. She is mindful of everyday things for which she is thankful during her errand journey. Then at the close of the story, her family expresses gratitude for her effort in completing the errand
- Round The Turkey: A Grateful Thanksgiving by Leslie Kimmelman – is a story about a girl’s Thanksgiving excitement. Her family is coming to her house this year. After the guests arrive, around the table they go giving thanks.
- The Thankful Book by Todd Parr – (Amazon) explores children celebrating daily expressions of gratitude. It’s a good book to share any time of the year. It’s a joyful collection of childlike appreciation for and why things bring them gratitude.
- Gracias/ Thanks by Pat Mora – a book that comes in both English and Spanish. It is an additional resource for kids expressing gratitude for everyday things. This book won many awards for its writing and illustrations.
- Thanks for Thanksgiving by Julie Markes – a great book about Thanksgiving for younger readers. The beautiful illustrations help children appreciate the holiday and everyday things in their lives. Markes writing helps readers to remember that joy is in the details.
- Thanks A Million by Nikki Grimes – a collection of poems highlighting the importance of being thankful. The poems are in different forms. They are beautifully written and remind readers of the goodness of being thankful.
- Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson – (Amazon) is from the Bear book series. This one is about Bear throwing a dinner party to thank his friends. The book highlights gratitude in addition to sharing.
- Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp and Erwin Printup – a kid version a Native American Thanksgiving Address. It originated with the Native people from Upstate New York and Canada. This message is still used in ceremonial gatherings.
- Splat Says Thank You by Rob Scotton is a story about a cat who wants to thank his mouse friend for his friendship. The cat wants to do more than send a thank you note. It’s a sweet and funny collection of gratitude among friends.
- The Circle of Thanks by Stephen Bruchac – a collection of poems inspired by Native American songs. The poems also teach kids to appreciate nature.
- Feeling Thankful by Shelley Rotner and Sheila Kelly – a warm-hearted reminder about appreciating everyday things. People, places, and things that we see daily can be appreciated in a deep and meaningful way. This book highlights that very practice.
- Before We Eat: From Farm To Table by Pat Brisson – is an award-winning book that helps kids appreciate the hard work that takes place for the food to appear on their tables. It’s an award-winning book that was adopted by the USDA’s Agriculture in the Classroom project to help highlight farmers. It helps teach children to appreciate where their food comes from and that gratitude should be expressed for that process.
- Being Thankful by Mercer Meyer – (Amazon) from the Little Critter series. Little Critter is faced with some envy and negative emotions surrounding it. His Grandmother teaches the lesson of gratitude to help him overcome this negative attitude.
- Gratitude Soup by Olivia Rosewood – (Amazon) a beautiful fantasy book about a fairy who learns to make soup filled with gratitude from her imagination. It teaches gratitude in a colorful, fun and entertaining way.
- I’m Thankful Each Day! by PK Hollinan – a board book that entertains kids with expressions of gratitude. It’s a joyful book that kids will enjoy while learning to appreciate the good they find in each day.
- Thankful by Eileen Spinelli – a sweet and gentle book to learn about everyday blessings. The rhymes and accessible content is fun to read with your kids.
- The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks – from the series shows the bears giving thanks during Thanksgiving. The cubs are in a Thanksgiving play and learn the lesson of what it means to truly be thankful.
- The Blue Daisy by Stacie Theis – a whimsical tale to help kids appreciate what they already have. It shows a flower who complains learning that being grateful is important.
- Good People Everywhere by Linea Gillen – is the winner of the Mom’s Choice Award. It is a warm-hearted book that helps children gently and calmly learn the benefits of good work and gratitude. It is complete with activity pages.
- The Blessings Jar: A Story About Being Thankful by Colleen Coble – a book about a little girl who overcomes a bad day. Her grandmother teaches her the value of gratitude by filling a jar with gratitude in order for the girl to see the value in everyday blessings.
- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein – a 50-year-old classic. This picture book shows the value of giving and receiving love.
- Thanksgiving Is For Giving Thanks by Margaret Sutherland – this book has simple text and beautiful illustrations that teach children all about what it means to give thanks at Thanksgiving.
- Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? by Dr. Seuss – yet another masterpiece in poetry and irrepressible optimism. The rhyming poetry and signature illustrations do not disappoint.
- Have You Filled A Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud – this book is not solely about gratitude, but rather a collection of positive behavior for children that serves as a guide to learn what being happy means.
- Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts – a timely book about consumerism and gratitude. So many kids feel the need to fit in. This book shows why it matters less to fit in than it does to appreciate the blessings of a loving family.
- The Thankful Book (An Elephant and Piggie book), by Mo Willems (Amazon) – Tells the story of best friends, Gerald and Piggie, who are polar opposites. In The Thankful Book, Piggie wants to thank EVERYONE. However, Gerald worries that Piggie will forget someone very important.
- Thanks a Million, by Nikki Grimes (Amazon) – This book comprises of 16 amazing poems, ranging from a haiku to a rebus, to a riddle. Grimes reminds readers how terrific it feels to be thankful, and how meaningful a simple “thank you” can be.
Making A Gratitude Advent Calendar
So many families are good at exploring gratitude around Thanksgiving and this is another example of where the idea got started. To expand your child’s understanding of gratitude, an advent calendar can be done during any month of the year. This type of calendar can be a wonderful way to countdown to any event or holiday. Here are the directions on how to build a fun “countdown in gratitude” calendar.
- 1 large empty cardboard box
- seasonal scrapbook paper
- small treat bags
- scrapbook letters (optional)
- seasonal stickers (optional)
- Cut the empty box open so it’s flat, like a science project presentation board.
- Cover the inside of the box with the seasonal scrapbook paper.
- Cut the small treat bags in half and discard the tops. Decorate these with the stickers and number the bags with the days of the month, as a countdown.
- Glue the treat bag halves on the board.
- You can make it fancy with the letters “Give Thanks” at the top of the board.
- Hot glue ribbon around the edges for a more polished look to the advent board.
- It’s ready to use!
Keep track of daily expressions of gratitude leading up to a certain date/ holiday/ event. On that special day, empty the days and share the expressions with your family. Enjoy the bonding.
An alternative way of utilizing this calendar is by pre-filling the bags with submissions by each family member, for each family member. Each day the family can pull out the daily gratitude and give and receive the love. Countering entitlement with gratitude on a daily basis is a tool for families to have in their tool kits.
How to Create A Gratitude Chart
At times it is difficult for kids to focus on things for which to be thankful. Keeping track of our blessings is a great way to put the spotlight on moments of gratitude. Here are several different ways to get started.
A brain map or ‘Count your blessings’ chart can be a helpful way to brainstorm. Start with a blank sheet of paper and in the middle draw a circle filled with the word “Blessings“. Draw lines, like spokes on a wheel, from that circle toward the edge of the paper. On each of these spokes write an area of your life. For instance, family, school, home, etc. From each of these spokes, draw more spokes that are things within that area that bring you feelings of gratitude.
Another chart to use is a Give Thanks poster. On the top of the poster write in big letters, “I am thankful for….” Each day, every family member can write an entry. It will fill up quickly as ideas spark more ideas between participants.
A 30-Day Challenge chart is a fun way to spark inspiration in practice of gratitude too. For each day of the month, write a prompt in a calendar form. Every day can represent a different area of life to practice gratitude. Be creative and watch your kids respond to the challenge.
Using Gratitude Rhymes to Teach Kids
Poetry is a colorful way to teach kids about gratitude. Using rhyme to match words of thankfulness to others gets kids using their minds to search for more. Being grateful for a car has nothing to do with being thankful for a star, but it is a way of expanding the scope of their gratitude.
Music is a powerful tool for teaching children, as it aids in developing literacy and communication skills. It’s no different when thinking about teaching them about gratitude. There are many artists who try to use rhyming in their songs to make the subject accessible to kids. With the current state of many songs on the radio, the benefits of playing some uplifting tunes for your kiddos could drive the concept of gratitude deep into their hearts and minds.
The following songs are great options to share with your children.
- “An attitude of gratitude, will put your heart right in the mood.” This is from a song entitled,
- “Attitude of Gratitude” written by The Swinging Belles.
- “I Am Thankful” by Bubbly Vee is a Thanksgiving song.
- “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”
- “Attitude of Gratitude” by Zippity 2 Dads is a different song than the title above.
- “Thankful for Your Service” by They Might Be Giants
5 Gratitude Word Searches to Use
Here are some links to sites offering printable word searches.
- Puzzles to Print – have a look here
- Doing Good together, which you can visit here
- Word Mint – here’s the site
- When We Wordsearch, available at this link
- Socially Skilled Kids, available here.
11 Gratitude Videos for Kids
Gratitude As A Life Skill – Go Strengths!
Kid President’s 25 Reasons To Be Thankful
Kids with Character: Gratitude
Gratitude – Teaching Kids To Be Thankful
Character education: Gratitude
What Is Gratitude? The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement
Nick Vujicic: Attitude Of Gratitude
What Does It Mean To Be Thankful? (For Kids)
For Older Kids
An Experiment In Gratitude – The Science Of Happiness
Let’s Talk Gratitude
For more videos and talks on gratitude, please see this list.
Take Home Message
This piece covered the topic of gratitude and kids.
Teaching and practicing gratitude will empower kids to live happier lives. Gratitude benefits emotional well-being by increasing positive emotions, enables savoring of experiences, and even counters materialism.
Reaching kids through practice of gratitude has unlimited resources.
The more parents start to focus on the practice themselves, the more the family will follow on that same path. Cheers to building more positive emotion in your home.
For further reading on gratitude:
- Gratitude Meditation: A Simple But Powerful Happiness Intervention
- The #1 Reason Why We Want More And More (And More)
- The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How It Affects Anxiety & Grief
- Kumar, A., & Nicholas, E. (2018). Undervaluing Gratitude: Expressers Misunderstand the Consequences of Showing Appreciation. Psychological Science, 29(9), 1423-1435.
- Hussong, A. M., Langley, H. A., Thomas, T. E., Coffman, J. L., Halberstadt, A. G., Costanzo, P. R., & Rothenberg, W. A. (2018). Measuring gratitude in children. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2018, 1-13.
- Allen, S. (2018). The Science of Gratitude. Greater Good Science Center. Retrieved from https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/GGSC-JTF_White_Paper-Gratitude-FINAL.pdf
- Halberstadt, A.G., Langley, H.A., Hussong, A.M., Rothenberg, W.A., Coffman, J.L., Mokrova, I., & Costanzo, P.R. (2016). Parents’ understanding of gratitude in children: A thematic analysis. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 36, 439-451.
- Layous, K., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2014). Benefits, mechanisms, and new directions for teaching gratitude to children. School Psychology Review, 43(2), 1-6.
- Mendonça, S. E., Merçon-Vargas, E. A., Payir, A., & Tudge, J. R. (2018). The development of gratitude in seven societies: Cross-cultural highlights. Cross-Cultural Research, 52(1), 135-150.
- Zakrzewski, V. (2016). Three Gratitude Lessons for K-8 Classrooms. Greater Good Magazine. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/three_gratitude_lessons_for_k_8_classrooms
- Emmons, R.A. (2003). Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389.