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Promoting Gratitude in Kids: Three Simple Ideas

Here in the northern hemisphere, many of us are hunkering down on colder days, upping the comfort food, and tentatively peeking out our windows for the first signs of winter. Hibernating sounds like a perfectly reasonable plan. (Good thinkin’, bears.) And with stores everywhere commercializing the upcoming holidays, many of our kiddos are starting to anticipate the fun things they hope to receive. We don’t blame them; shiny new gift ideas and not-so-subtle advertising are everywhere. The stores aren’t telling kids to feel gratitude for what they already have; they’re telling them to want more.

It’s tricky for a parent who, for ethical, moral, or financial reasons just doesn’t want to dive headfirst into commercialism. We’re all just doing our part to protect the earth, right? Of course, many of us are fine with gifts, and that’s great.

But I don’t know any parents who want their love to be measured by the number of boxes they deliver.

Fortunately, there are some ways to counter the commercialism and bring the holidays back to a place of gratitude and a spirit of giving. The more we can participate in and model these things for our kids, the more they’ll internalize what’s really important to our families. Plus, genuine gratitude is scientifically proven to be good for people!

Here are a few gratitude-promoting ideas that have worked well in our house during the holiday season and all year ’round. After all, gratitude isn’t just for Thanksgiving.

thankfulness children
Great for pinning!

1. Make a gratitude garland.

This is an inexpensive and fun craft that helps kids be mindful of gratitude every day. It’s also a lovely option for those of us whose crafts aren’t, say, Pinterest-worthy. (I’m raising my hand here. Heck, I can barely pack a lunchbox without a map.)

gratitude and children

Most of what you need are common household items (afflinks):

You and your kids can trace and cut out whatever shape (or shapes) you plan to use. Each day, write one thing for which you’re thankful on one of the shapes. Cut a small hole in your shape. Feed your twine or yarn through it, and make sure you cut a long enough length of yarn to last awhile. Use a paperclip to secure your shape to the yarn. Hang the yarn somewhere visible in your home, and each day, recount your blessings together as you add a new one. We find that hanging it over the door frame in the kitchen works well.

2. Try a reverse advent calendar or pay-it-forward calendar.

You can use almost any advent calendar or multi-compartment storage box for this one. (Even a regular old shoebox or a cookie jar can work in a pinch!) Every day, let your child pull a pre-written note from the container and see what good you get to do together. Here’s the thing, though: together is the key word. This isn’t a trick to get your kid to do chores (“Go make your bed” won’t fly.) This should be for both of you and never forced; otherwise, it will instill anything but gratitude in kids.

Here are some warm and fuzzy ideas kids will enjoy, and that can foster some really positive connection for you both!

Calendar Ideas to Promote Gratitude in Kids
Leave a “just because” or holiday card for someone you don’t know–put it right in their mailbox! Make it an adventure.
Rake someone else’s yard together.
Use chalk to draw something festive on someone else’s sidewalk.
Leave a penny next to a fountain for someone else’s wish.
Call or visit someone your child has been missing, or someone who’s been missing your child.
Take a can of cat or dog food, or a toy, to an animal shelter.
Give your child money to give to a cashier, to give to the next person in line. (Or better, several people back to keep it anonymous).
Leave a chocolate on someone’s pillow in your home (it’s fine if you have one, too).
Make cards to deliver to a retirement home, then hand deliver them (can be two separate days).
Leave a note of joy on someone’s car.
Find someone whose newspaper or package has been delivered to their sidewalk, then move it up to their doorstep.
Find some trash outside and throw it away.
Go somewhere and smile at everyone you see: count the smiles you get back! 
Find or purchase a toy to donate. 
Go to an animal shelter or pet store to play with a lonely animal.
Pick up sticks, leaves, or rocks from the sidewalk and move them somewhere safer.
Ask a stranger how his or her day is going, and listen sincerely to the answer.
ALL PLAY! Decide together what to do for others today. 
Research charities together and let your child decide how he wants to support one.
Host a meal, snack, or tea time for a friend or neighbor.
Pay someone a sincere compliment.
Hold a door open for 10 people in a public place.
Buy an apple for someone at the grocery store.
Write a letter to your mail carrier and leave it in your mailbox. 
Give away 10 hugs today.
Choose non-perishable food items to donate.
Tell someone you don’t normally tell that you love or really like them.
Sweep or shovel a neighbor’s driveway.

The older your child, the bigger part he or she can play in it. For little kids, especially, you might model raking the leaves more than expect your children to do the heavy lifting. (I bet they’ll have lots of fun jumping in piles and bagging them up, though!) Modeling gratitude without making the work obligatory helps keep the spirit of it all authentic. And of course, opportunities to volunteer increase with your child’s age. Again, the focus here is togetherness. Take time to be present with your kiddos, and that alone will be joyful for you both!

3. Perform random acts of kindness.

Unlike the reverse advent calendar where each day’s event is a surprise to the child, here, you brainstorm

thankful kids

together. It’s perfectly okay to model random acts of kindness for your child if she’s having trouble coming up with ideas. The message here is that she’ll observe you treating others well without expecting anything in return. After all, that’s one of the gifts that gratitude fosters, isn’t it?

One of the great things about gratitude is the more kids see it in action throughout the entire year, the easier it is for them to perpetuate.

It takes practice sometimes. For all of us. But gratitude itself can be one of the best gifts of all, and it never needs to be wrapped with a bow.

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About the Writer

Sarah R. Moore is a published writer, positive parenting educator, wellness advocate, and world traveler. Her work spans the globe, reaching readers on six continents and appearing in publications such as The Natural Parent Magazine, Scary Mommy, and Macaroni Kid.

She has been certified by the Raffi Foundation for Child Honouring.  She wholeheartedly recommends the course for parents, educators, and all others who influence the lives of children. 

She also holds BA / MFS degrees in Journalism, French, and Media/Arts/Cultural Production. Read more about Sarah here.