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How to encourage children to be grateful

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What do we mean by gratitude?

Gratitude is the feeling and expression of being thankful. You can be thankful for things or people or experiences in your life. You may be thankful to someone in particular or just generally appreciate something in your life.

However, we often take things for granted. We get used to all the choices we have, the people who help us live our daily lives and the abundance of our lives. In our materialistic world, we often think about what we don’t have rather than what we do have.


Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.

Melody Beattie


Why is gratitude important?

Research has shown that adults who feel and express gratitude are more likely to flourish – they are more contented with their lives, they have better relationships and also report better physical health.

Gratitude is a positive feeling. Research suggests that having positive feelings make us more open to new ideas and new people. This helps us to become more creative and more able to think of ways to overcome problems. Positive feelings also help us cope better with stress.

Gratitude helps us savour and appreciate the experiences in our lives, past and present. When we have a grateful attitude, we find it easier to overcome negative feelings such as anger, hurt, envy, distrust and resentment. We don’t have to focus on all the things that have gone wrong in our past – they don’t make us who we are. We can learn to focus on all the good things in our lives and make our lives happier right now.


Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.

Carl Bard

Research on gratitude in children is still very new but is showing encouraging results. Research suggests that encouraging young people to ‘count their blessings’ improves their sense of being grateful and makes them more likely to be happy at school. We know that children who are happy at school are more likely to enjoy learning and achieve to the best of their ability.


Learning to have a grateful attitude

Gratitude is an attitude – a way of looking at things. We often develop gratitude by having to cope with something more difficult or challenging than we are used to, or by seeing what someone else has to cope with and realising how lucky we are.

For example, we often don’t truly appreciate our home comforts until we have been out camping in the rain for a couple of nights! If we are bed-ridden for a long time with an illness, we may start to see the changing seasons from our window in a way we never saw them before. We can be moaning about something, then see a news report about families devastated by war, famine or earthquakes, and realise how grateful we should be for our relatively stable lives.

Often it is people who have poor health or very little money who show us how to be grateful. Consider this reaction from a child after visiting a homeless shelter:


The kids were all so happy there. They don’t have anything, but they are still happy. Maybe they know more than I do.

Girl, aged 13


How to help children to be more grateful
  • Show gratitude yourself. Let the children you work or live with see you showing thanks to other people on a regular basis, for example, other children, neighbours, teachers, colleagues, shop assistants. Also let them see you being grateful, regularly, for little things like your cup of coffee or the sunshine. And thank them for showing kindness or being quiet and hard-working or cheerful and full of energy.
  • When children are grateful, notice it and tell them they are being thoughtful. For example, say "That was thoughtful of you to thank your friend for helping you with your maths - I’m sure it made her feel good."
  • Encourage children to find the silver lining in every cloud. If something goes wrong, ask them what can they find to be grateful for? For example, if they fail a test at school, say "I’m sorry you didn’t pass that test. That must make you feel upset. Is there anything you can think of to be thankful about?" You can prompt them to realise that tests help them and their teacher see what they need more help with, or they may see that they have to concentrate more on their work. Or you could remind them to be thankful that they passed a different test, or that they have people who care about them whether they passed the test or not.
  • Encourage children to show gratitude by writing texts, emails or cards to say thanks. This can be for a gift, simply to tell someone how much they mean to them or to say thanks for something that someone did for them.

We do not have a vehicle in our culture for telling the people who mean the most to us how thankful we are that they are on the planet – and even when we are moved to do so, we shrink in embarrassment.

Martin Seligman
  • Share gratitude daily. Make time in the morning or at the evening meal or at group discussion time in class to share at least one thing for which each person is grateful. You can also talk about one thing that was difficult that day. But it is good to start with being thankful because it helps increase positive emotions, which opens your mind to help you think of ideas for solving your problems.
  • Say thank you before eating family meals, school meals, or snacks at youth clubs. This helps show children to appreciate the food we have to eat. Children in a family or class or group can take turns to make up the words of thanks before each meal.

Ideas for words to give thanks before meals:

Rubba dub dub, thanks for the grub!
To the Farmers and Growers,
To the Butchers and Bakers,
To the Cooks and the Caterers,
we give thanks for this meal.
For what we are about to receive, let us be thankful and ever mindful of those less fortunate than ourselves.
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.
Robert Burns



Here are some activities you could try to encourage children to be grateful:


Good stuff diary


Suggest to a child or a group of children that, before they go to sleep, they take a notepad or a special diary and try writing down 5 things that they are thankful for on that day, for example:

  • I passed my maths test
  • I really enjoyed playing/going out with my friend
  • I had my favourite meal for dinner.

On days when it seems that not much has happened, the things can be much more simple or general, for example:

  • I am lucky to have hot water for my shower
  • The sun was shining today
  • I am thankful for my healthy body and that I am able to walk and run.



Grateful Poster

  Use a big piece of poster board or strong paper and write "For this I am Grateful" across the top. Put it up on the wall and keep it up for a week or even a month. Ask everyone in the family or class or club to write or draw something on the poster for which he/she is grateful. This could be something big (like winning a football match or getting an A in a test) or something small (like having a fun walk with the dog or enjoying the sunshine). Continue to add to it every day. At the end of the week or month, take it down and take turns to read aloud what was written. This helps show kids that focusing on finding things to be thankful for reminds us of all the things we have.  



What Went Well?


This activity can be used for groups or with individuals – or you can do it yourself! The more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Over time it will encourage a happier outlook on life.

Write "WWW" in the middle of a page of flip chart paper and ask the child or group of children what went well for them today – or this week. Brainstorm as many positive things that happened. On difficult days this can be harder but it is an important exercise for remembering all the good things in our lives – some of which can be very simple, such as having a warm home, friends to play with, good food to eat, etc. Younger children may prefer to draw a picture of what they are happy about or thankful for.




Thankful Things

  Think about all the good things in your life that make you feel thankful - call them ‘Thankful Things’.

What you need:

  • A bag of letters, such as magnetic letters, letter tiles from a board game, or letters that have been handwritten on separate pieces of paper.

What you do:

  • Take it in turns to pull a letter out of the bag.
  • Think of something you’re really thankful for that begins with the letter you’ve just chosen.
  • Then invite everyone else to say what they’re thankful for that begins with the same letter.
  • Try to choose Thankful Things that no one else has chosen.
  • See how many Thankful Things you can find together.

Some things to talk about together:

  • What things are you most thankful for today?
  • What are you most thankful for about each other?
  • How do you feel when you’ve spent time thinking about your Thankful Things?

Other ideas:

  • Pull a letter out of the bag and set a timer for one minute. See how many Thankful Things you can think of together before the buzzer goes. Then choose another letter and do it all over again.
  • Write all the letters of the alphabet down the side of a piece of paper. Then think of at least one Thankful Thing for each letter of the alphabet. Or see how many you can think of for each letter of the alphabet. If you find four for each letter you will have more than one hundred Thankful Things!
  • Write a different letter of the alphabet on 26 different sheets of paper. Stick them all around the room and give everyone a pencil. Ask them to write as many Thankful Things as possible on the papers around the room. So all the Thankful Things beginning with A will be written on the A sheet of paper, etc.
  • Find a book, like an address book, that has a page or two for every letter of the alphabet. Collect lists of your Thankful Things in your special book.
  • Make a Thankful Things scrapbook with a young child. Use different coloured pages. Cut pictures of colourful Thankful Things from old magazines and stick them on the matching pages.
  • Make a thankful display or a thankful box and fill it with things that remind you of your favourite Thankful Things.



If the only prayer you ever say in your life is 'thank you', it will be enough

Meister Eckhart



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