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Teaching Your Kids to Be Thankful for What They Have

December 17th, 2014     By Laura Buddenberg, Manager Training and Community Outreach, Mother of two

Family, Toddler

​This post first appeared on Photo from 

It can be a challenge to get your kids to appreciate the things they have when they are eager for Christmas to arrive with all of the shiny new things.

Parents can help their kids learn and practice gratitude in two main ways:  1. Spend uninterrupted time together; and 2. Focus on serving others. The method you use for teaching children gratitude depends on the child’s age.


Parents of Tykes

Reward Your Child with Time and Attention Rather Than Things: Hugs, kisses, and time spent with mom and dad are what young children crave most. Rather than rewarding good behavior with a new toy, reward your child with an extra story at bedtime, playing a board game together, or inviting a friend to come over and play. This will decrease the value placed on “things” and increase the value of time spent together.

Find Ways to Involve Your Child in Service Activities: If you volunteer with a particular organization, take this time of year to explain to your child why you do so or have your child help you. It is easier to for children to put things in perspective when they are able to participate in giving back. Tell Susie that another family may not have as many toys and ask if she would like to give one to a child who does not have one. Encourage your child to have empathy and caring for others.


Parents of Tweens

Have Family Nights: Take time this Thanksgiving to turn off the TV! I know football is on, but it is important to have uninterrupted family time. Play a board game, plan your next vacation, have your tween help with Thanksgiving dinner, even it requires some extra time and effort on your part. Take some time to work your way around the Thanksgiving table and list what you are grateful for this year. Your tween will learn to place value on time spent together.

Get Your Child Involved in Community Service: There are many service activities available for children this age. Brainstorm ideas for service activities together or invite your tween to ask a friend to join him or her. Praise your children for their efforts to serve others.

  • Volunteer at a charity run
  • Help serve meals at a shelter
  • Visit a nursing home


Parents of Teens

Make Gratitude a Core Value: One of the best ways to encourage this in your teen is to demonstrate it yourself. The next time someone receives a gift take a moment to point out how lucky and grateful you are. All children should be taught to express thanks verbally or by sending a thank you note. Being grateful is a trait you want your children to carry long into their adult lives. Take every opportunity to demonstrate gratitude.

When You Get Something, Give Something Else Away: When your teen receives a new sweater for Christmas, encourage her to donate gently used one she may not wear as much anymore. Connect receiving a gift with giving one away. It is important for kids to be aware of how many people have less than they do, rather than comparing themselves to people who have more.  Grateful teens are happier than envious teens.


For more information about teaching your child to be thankful check out the book Who’s Raising Your Child? The book is available through the Boys Town Press.

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