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Smart Parenting Strategies: How to Teach Children Gratitude

The “G” word is heard over and over again each year during the holidays. And as adults, we understand the meaning of gratitude. But how do we teach children gratitude without the eye rolling or tuning out?


Gratitude is defined by the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

According to Dr. Courtney Ball Harkins, Psy.D., marriage and family therapist and OC Mom Blog contributor, “Teaching your child gratitude is one of the best gifts you can give them. It is an essential task of raising a well adjusted, happy and healthy child. Grateful children are happier, and have a more positive view of themselves and others. These traits help fight against envy, jealousy, anger, depression and anxiety.”

Here are a few practical strategies for teaching children gratitude:

  • Active Parent Role Modeling
    This can’t be overstated. On a daily basis, I try to make a conscious effort to exaggerate appreciation in front of my children and involve them indirectly or directly. For example, at church I allow my daughters to place the offering in the collection box. After dropping off the donation, we talk about what the church is doing for those less fortunate. Yes, I could easily drop off the envelope myself, but this simple act of gratitude will hopefully embed in their little minds for years to come. Additionally, by letting them take part in the process of returning kindness, they now feel empowered and involved.
  • Focus on Everyday Gratitude
    Everyday gratitude is another easy way to build and instill habits of appreciation. The important “please” and “thank you” replies when a server waits on your table, or holding open the door for another person can go a long way. This type of immediate, simple way of showing gratitude happens in less than a few seconds.
  • Help and Visit Those Unlike You
    Several times a year we travel outside our “bubble.” This summer, we visited the Orange County Rescue Mission to make a donation from my daughters’ lemonade stands. These “trips” help children realize the basic needs that they may take for granted are actually gifts. Plan a trip to an area that serves a community of the less fortunate. Even if it’s driving by in the car, take the time to talk about the struggles of others in neighboring communities.

Dr. Ball Harkins concludes, “When being grateful is a focal point in your life, heart and mind, it is almost impossible to feel anything but peace.”

Kristal Zacharias is the mother of two beautiful, vivacious girls, and wife of a hunky husband who works in the action sports industry. For the past 15 years, Kristal has worked for several Fortune 500 companies as a professional communicator. Follow her journey at Clearly Kristal or on Facebook and Twitter.


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