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10 Little Ways to Cultivate Gratitude in Your Kids

The holidays can bring out the best—and the worst—in kids. If you are worried your children are becoming materialistic or ungrateful, practice these habits to teach your kids to be thankful this Christmas and beyond.

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First: Practice gratefulness yourself

Children learn best by watching their parents model good habits, including gratitude, on a regular basis. Spend some time in self-reflection, watching for ways you show you are thankful and content to your friends and family. If you are struggling, or if you haven’t been modeling thankfulness at home, talk about it with your children and let them know you plan to improve. “Model being grateful as a parent to your partner and your kids yourself,” encouraged Laurie Hollman, PhD, author of Unlocking Parental Intelligence. “Ask them how they feel when they are thanked and appreciated. This is a good way to learn about the importance of being grateful.” Check out these quotes to inspire gratitude.

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Expect your children to say “Thank you”

Saying “thank you!” is a habit kids have to be taught. If you have neglected teaching them to say this phrase, don’t worry, it is never too late to start. Ask them to say thank you for the everyday ways others serve them. “When you do something even ordinary for your kids, like laundry, tell them you love them and are glad to do it, but would also like to be noticed for your work,” says Dr. Hollman. “Tell them your feelings: that you like to be there for them but also like feeling good when you know they appreciate and notice your work. Children like to hear parents’ feelings and respond in kind.” Here’s how to write a heartfelt thank-you note.

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Gratitude is about more than gifts

Don’t just expect gratitude when your kids get something, help them to recognize how much you, their parents, do for them because you love them. Your kids can grow so accustom to the house they live in, the clothes they wear and the food they eat each day, that they forget that those things are given to them out of love, too. “We talk about why daddy goes to work every day,” shares Amber W., mom of two. “We say thank you for the lights, and warm bath water, and van, etc…”

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Tell them thank you

Beyond modeling gratitude, you can also teach your children about being thankful by expressing your appreciation toward them when they are obedient or kind to you. “I am sure to thank them for good behavior and when they do sweet or helpful things, too,” says Emilia M., mom of two. “This is so they can experience the other side of gratitude.”

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Practice in advance

Rachel P., mom of four, shares that they helped their children express their gratitude by role playing before they are given gifts. Sometimes children aren’t ungrateful or spoiled, they simply need a little help practicing the right words to say when someone does something kind for them or gives them a gift.

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iStock/Steve Debenport

Let them know when you’re disappointed

As parents, it is good to focus on the positive and reinforce good behavior in our children. Still, Dr. Hollman was clear that it is OK to share with your children when you feel hurt or disappointed by their lack of gratitude. “Explain that when you feel they are grateful it makes you feel proud of them as well as yourself. You’d like their help on this if they would be so kind as to mention it when you do something for them even something like straightening out their backpack or room,” Dr. Hollman advises. “When you do feel unappreciated and not acknowledged, it’s okay to tell your kids and that you want to share your thoughts with them.”

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iStock/Steve Debenport

Encourage volunteer work

Give your children an understanding of how much good they have in their life and how hard you work to care for them by inviting them along to volunteer with you and your partner. “My husband and I both do a lot of volunteering,” shares Jeanne S., mom of one. “[My daughter] Jill not only tags along but takes part. She has also begun doing more on her own. She’s discovered a knack for selling raffle tickets for our local youth center. She will sit at the farmers’ market and sell them with another adult, so it’s not just us guiding her.”

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Make gratitude a habit

Help your children become more mindful of the good things in their life by making a new habit as a family to talk about what you are grateful for. Carla W., mom of two, started a tradition at dinner at night by asking her children to name three things they are thankful for.

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Read books about the importance of gratitude

Bear Says Thanks, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and Dr. Seuss’s Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? are a few of the classic books that drive home the message or gratitude in a way your child can appreciate. And it’s not just books that you can use. Anne L., mom of two uses Be Good Be Polite Body Wash at bath time. “It tells the story of ‘polite Peter’ a bird who loves to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Even my 3-year-old really gets it!”

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Remember, raising thankful children is part of the job

As parents, it can be easy to get discouraged or frustrated when your children behave poorly or don’t express gratitude for the things you give them. Don’t forget that it is part of your job as a parent to teach your children to behave properly. If your child is failing to say they are thankful, use that as a teachable moment and talk to them about how they can do better next time. “Explain that when their peers or adults in their lives do something to help them out or they see those help others as well that people are pleased that you tell them you are grateful for what they’ve done,” Dr. Hollman says. “Being grateful is being kind and people respond favorably to you when you say thank you or tell them in detail about how you appreciate and recognize what they’ve done.”

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest