How to Raise Grateful Kids. They’ll Thank You One Day (Right? I hope!).

By Tonya Graser Smith

As we head into Thanksgiving, I have been thinking about how to raise grateful kids.

Here’s the thing: What do I know?!?! Like any parent, I just do my best. I try to pay attention. I try to listen to other parents. I try to be intentional. I try to be mindful.

During the holidays, my family supports our church’s Angel Tree, buying gifts for those in need in our community. My little ones get really excited to pick out the specific ornaments with ‘cool’ toys to share with other kids. This year they wanted to pick out four ornaments, so we could give a gift from each member of our family.

Each night at dinner, we thank the person who prepared the meal. The best part is hearing my youngest say, “Tank You, Dada,” as she copies the rest of us.

During the Charlotte Marathon, we line up to cheer on the runners. We talk about being healthy, setting goals and supporting people, even if we don’t know them. This year my oldest cheered on all types of runners — young, old, visually impaired, ‘first time’ marathoners being pushed in strollers by a parent and runners pushing loved ones in wheelchairs.

I can only hope I’m doing this right. But I tell you, we are not alone in this parenting thing.

I decided to crowdsource more answers and ideas. I reached out to some wise mamas in my social network. How do you raise your kids to be grateful? Here are some of my favorite responses, many of which I plan to introduce to my family, too.

Each night at dinner, ask each family member to answer one of these questions: What are you grateful for today? What was your high today, and what was your low?

And another spin on that:

Or just simply WWW “What went well” today? Or, for younger kids: “What made you happy today?”

Love. It. The idea is this teaches kids to be thankful for small and big things. Other lessons: not every day is all highs, and the lows can give us more gratitude when good things happen. It’s called perspective. And grown-ups, myself included, sometimes, no really – always, can use the reminder.

I tried this out on my 2-year-old daughter, and she told me her feet made her happy that day. A friend said her boy once replied “poop.” Use these as springboards to talk about gratitude for health, food, exercise, nature, family. Keep it on their level. 

Instead of birthday gifts or instead of so many birthday gifts, support a non-profit, especially one that helps children and families.

I love this, too! I have heard of families who incorporate service into their birthday celebrations, sorting clothes at Crisis Assistance Ministry or organizing food donations at Loaves & Fishes. Maybe you do something big, like volunteer at one of these organizations. Maybe you do something small, like participate in your child’s school food drive or take old toys to Goodwill.  Whatever it is, talk to your children about what you are doing and why.

At restaurants, thank your server regularly — when ordering, when served, when departing. 

Say a prayer or send a warm thought when an ambulance passes.

Remember not to give into your kids’ every wish or demand. (Amen.)

Model, model, model. Be grateful as much as you can, and your kids will see. 

One mom told me how a few years ago she did the November month long grateful challenge, naming something she was grateful for each day. Years later, she now shares something she’s grateful for every day, all year long. Her kids hear this. That’s the thing, the little rascals really do pay attention.

Let me say I am grateful for all the strong and smart parents out there who are ready and willing to share their knowledge with my husband and me as we try to figure out how to best parent our little ones. If you find yourself having a hard time finding gratefulness, use your community network for a reboot!