When my sons were born, my wish for my children was for them to grow into kind, compassionate, contributing, and thankful adults (this still holds today). However, thankfulness traits do not “just happen”; it must be cultivated from birth onward.

This quote, which I wrote down in my oldest son’s baby book still makes me smile. He was in Kindergarten (yes, only five years old), and I realized then that my children would teach me far more then I could ever dream of teaching them.

 “I am thankful for everything because there are kids who have nothing” – Grayson, age 5

As parents, we are our children’s first everything. We are their parent, friend, playmate, teacher, caretaker, safety from the world, and so much more. It is never too early or too late to begin instilling thankfulness into their ever-growing minds and bodies.

Infant Stage: When your adorable baby gurgles and makes that gummy smile, tell them how much joy they bring to your world. Watch their face light up even more.

Toddler Stage: Mind those manners by encouraging them to say “Please” and “Thank you.” It teaches your child that people should be shown respect and appreciated for what they do for others. Make sure to use your manners back to them; modeling helps reinforce the behavior.

Preschooler Stage: Children begin to understand (at their own pace) the world around them and begin connecting and learning empathy. Encourage this further by having a brief conversation about the things surrounding them. For example, open their clothes closet and talk about what it would feel like if they did not have clothes to wear. Remember, keep the conversation age-appropriate, but discuss how thankful you are that you are able to provide clothes for them.

Here are a few ways to get the thankfulness ball rolling in your home:

Practice Thankfulness: We spend time each day feeding, talking, playing, reading, bathing, exploring the world, and practicing ABCs with our children (all of which are important for future success), but these are also prime opportunities to practice thankfulness! For example: “Wow, look at the beautiful blue sky today, I am thankful for such a pretty day”  “It was wonderful you made a friend at the park while sharing your ball.” “Thank you for sharing your snack with me.”

Model Thankfulness: Children pay attention to how the adults they love conduct themselves. If we want to raise a thankful child, we must first be thankful ourselves. Take time each day to demonstrate your thankfulness. It can be as simple as using your manners, “please” and “thank you” or giving a compliment. You can also write a sweet note or tell your child that you are thankful for them or how much you enjoyed spending time with them today. I make it a point to tell my sons how much I appreciate their help around the house or how thankful I am when I see them do something kind for others. At the end of the day, we talk about how thankful we are for the food we ate, the home we share, and that we all returned home safely. It is the little moments repeated that become ingrained.

Encourage Kind Acts: Praise your child when they do something kind for someone. Children love to feel helpful, and you will be amazed by how willing they are to help if you provide them the age-appropriate opportunity. Each year before the holidays I ask my sons to go through their belongings and pull out anything they no longer use or does not fit and we bag it up and donate it. They feel good inside for giving to others.

Connect the Meaning Behind the Act of Giving: It is important to help your child understand the kind thought behind someone giving a gift. For example, “Wasn’t it nice of Grandma to give you that coat? She wants you to be warm all winter long.”

Living a life of gratitude and thankfulness is learned. In order to fill the world with thankful people, it begins at home. Take the time to enjoy these teachable moments through play and bonding … you will be even more proud of those sweet children you are working so hard to raise. Here are additional ways to raise a thankful child.

Now for some real fun! Children learn best through play with those they love. Here is an activity you can do with your child to reinforce thankfulness and also can be used to celebrate the holidays and an act of giving while keeping little hands busy, it is a win-win (I love when that happens.)

Thankful Tablecloth:

  • Grab a roll of craft paper and unroll it end to end of the kitchen table (tape ends to secure)
  • Grab crayons, markers, paint (may I suggest washable ones, as no one wants to add marker clean up to an already packed schedule.)
  • Encourage your child to draw things of which they are thankful.
  • Let your children draw and decorate. Let their imagination soar!
  • Imagine how proud your child will be when the family sits down for dinner at a table, adorned by their art.

Are you thankfully inspired?  Here are more craft ideas to enjoy with your child.

We can always find something to be thankful for, and practicing a thankful heart will not only make us happier, but your children are more likely to grow up to be thankful, too. The world could use more of that … enjoy the holiday.