How to teach little kids thankfulness

How to teach little kids thankfulness

We know Thanksgiving is about more than turkey and pie, but often in the rush to set a pretty table and buy the ingredients for the perfect meal we don’t stop to make sure our kids know that, too. It’s not until we’re sitting down with family ready to dig in to the turkey that we think about offering a prayer of thanksgiving or talking about what we’re thankful for this year. Teaching kids about thankfulness doesn’t take long but leaves a lasting impression. Here are some tips for getting kids to understand the significance of Thanksgiving, and of giving thanks.

Model it.

Watch the kinds of things you talk about with your spouse in the presence of your children. Do you spend time every night at the dinner table griping about your jobs and arguing over who has to do the dishes? Not every conversation you share has to be about sunshine and roses, but you do want to convey an overall message of gratefulness and cooperation. Be outwardly thankful that you have a job, a roof over your heads, food on the table and running water with which to wash those dirty dishes. Kids need to know these things are blessings, not birthrights.

Also, be sure to mind your manners in public and at home, and write thank-you notes for gifts, party invitations and other kind gestures from others.

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Make it visual. 

Create a Thankful Tree, using construction paper taped to your wall to form the trunk and branches (or find a small branch from the yard and bring it inside, placing it in a vase). Here’s how:

  • Cut out leaves from construction paper (it’s helpful to trace them using leaf-shaped cookie cutters if you have them) and ask your kids what they’re thankful for.
  • Write each thing on a leaf and hang or tape them on the tree.
  • Add to the tree every day (or at least once a week), as a family. Include a few of the things you are thankful for too.
  • After Thanksgiving you can collect the leaves and place them in a small box or plastic bag labeled with the current year and store them away with your other holiday decorations.

You’ll make a new tree with new leaves next year, but it’s fun to read what everyone was thankful for in previous years.

To carry this tradition through the Christmas season, do a Thankful Chain instead of a tree. Write each thing you and your child is thankful for on a small strip of paper before adding it to the paper chain using a bit of glue or tape. Then you can put the paper chain on your Christmas tree after Thanksgiving, and continue to add to it if you like.


Read books about it.

There are tons of great books out there about Thanksgiving and about thankfulness in general. A few to try:


Foster gratefulness by giving back. 

Volunteering with your child makes a lasting impression about being grateful for all that you have. Spend a couple hours visiting the residents of a local nursing home or lending a hand at a food pantry. Find a nonprofit organization that has a list of needy families and choose a child or family to buy gifts or food for this holiday season.

You can also fill a shoebox with gifts and toiletries for a needy boy or girl your child’s age through Operation Christmas Child. It’s a wonderful organization that helps kids in need around the world, and there are helpful video clips, photos and instructions on the website that bring home the message for your kids about others who are less fortunate.


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Reinforce it year-round. 

Thanksgiving comes but once a year, but giving thanks is a year-round ideal we want to instill in our kids. Teach your children the art of writing thank-you notes to relatives who send gifts and cards to them. This reinforces the importance of giving thanks. So, too, does practicing good manners, both at home and out in the world.