Nurturing Gratitude: The Spirit of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving season is a time to reflect back on all that we are thankful for. 

You can help your little ones learn the importance of gratitude starting when they are as young as 2. Experts say practicing thankfulness reaps tremendous benefits over time. 

Here are some ways other parents have helped foster foster an attitude of thankfulness:

Share and reflect

Harold and Maria Reid, parents of five children, use the dinner table as a place for family talk.

“It helps them identify the everyday things in their lives that they could be appreciative of,” Harold Reid says. “Everyone takes turns sharing their highs and lows.

“There are even times when we translate the lows into a positive when all things are considered.”

Give to the less fortunate

Tyler Hartsook, a father of two, tried a new spin on gift-giving. 

“Two years ago, I attempted to show my daughter how to be grateful for what she has,” he says. “On the drive to the store, we talked about how not everyone gets a lot of presents and that I think it would be great for her to pick out a gift for a little girl that might not get a lot. She agreed and was genuinely excited.”

“Upon arrival at the store, she excitedly ran over to the toy section and picked out a doll from a very popular children’s movie,” Tyler Hartsook says. “When we reached the checkout counter, my daughter had a change of plan.

“She instead decided that she wanted the toy for herself … leading to a top 5 meltdown and me leaving wondering how I had raised such a selfish person. 

“Then I remembered that she was 3.”

Suggest thank-you notes

Liz Ergle swears by handwritten thank-you notes for her two young daughters. 

“Initially, when our oldest was a toddler, I would write the note and let her color a picture on it,” she says. “At age 4, she would tell me what to write for her, and then she would sign her name (usually adding in a picture). 

“This year, I am planning to use fill-in-the-blank notecards, like these, that she can actually write on her own.” 

Create a gratitude jar

When Brad Miller’s son, Bennett, was 3, his family started collecting items in a “treasure chest” made from a small box. 

“It sounds strange, but it really seems to resonate with my son,” Miller says. “The idea is for Bennett to find wonder in little things around the house and in the backyard — in our case, a Matchbox car, a miniature statue of St. Joseph and some fiery red maple leaves. 

“Bennett looks through his box each night and says, ‘Wow.’”

Inspired? Consider creating a “gratitude jar” with your child. It’s an easy-to-craft project and a beautiful, tangible way to help your little one to show gratitude. (Instructions here.)

Lead by example

Harold and Maria Reid understand that children learn by example. That’s why the couple go out of their way to model gratitude in front of their children.

“As parents, displaying random acts of kindness towards others in front of your children can be very impactful,” Harold Reid says. “No matter what our situation in life, we can find happiness and gratefulness through practicing kindness to others. 

“Best of all, being kind is free.”

Tyler Hartsook and his wife take a similar approach.

“You have to show them how you are grateful and explain to them why you are so grateful,” he says. “And grateful doesn’t just show up between November and December and get put back in the attic. Grateful is there on a rain-soaked, traffic-filled, running-late Tuesday in April.”

He says teaching gratitude does not have to be daunting. 

“Order some dry-erase markers online and each morning just write a thing or two you are grateful for,” he says. 

The habit had an impact on his daughter. 

“My daughter decided to give not one but three toys last holiday to someone else,” Tyler Hartsook says. 

Like so many important things in life, gratitude is a character trait that takes practice. For more tips on nurturing gratitude, check out these resources:

Find a Primrose School Near You

Inspire a lifelong love of learning. Contact your local Primrose to schedule a tour.

Find A School