Teaching Gratitude to Children and Teens

Gratitude should be encouraged throughout the year, but it's of particular focus during Thanksgiving.

Along with my private practice, I've worked in elementary and secondary school settings since 2012, and know how important it is to encourage moments of gratitude with children throughout the year. That being said, it obviously comes up a lot around Thanksgiving and the winter holidays.

Below are a few of my tips for introducing the topic and encouraging further growth in these skills for your children. Many of these I've implemented in my own practice.

Top tips to build gratitude in elementary school:

  1. Ask your child to explain thankfulness and gratitude, and explore what they're already thankful for: Get a sense of what they already understand about this topic.
  2. Expand gratitude to encompass not only physical things, but acts, emotions, etc.: We're not just thankful about a gift or food, we're thankful about the work that goes into it, and how that's a way the people show they care.
  3. Share what you are thankful for in your own life: By demonstrating these skills to your children, they have an excellent model. These can be things, events, or emotions, big or small.
  4. Create a craft together on this: And use it as an opportunity to discuss further. My personal favorite craft to use in a classroom setting, at this time of year, is Gratitude Pie
  5. Write Thank-You Notes together: Share your gratitude with others!

Top tips to build gratitude with secondary students:

  1. Explore this concept: What does your pre-teen or teenager already know about being thankful? What are they already thankful for?
  2. Demonstrate your own gratitude, especially to them, throughout the year: If you have concerns that your pre-teen or teen isn't vocal enough or thankful enough, make sure that you're demonstrating this on your end. A lot of times, teenagers become uncomfortable with really direct praise, but the more you do it, the easier it feels to them. Express your gratitude, even for small things that they do.
  3. Have them help with the big Thanksgiving meal: Encourage them to complete one component of it independently. 
  4. College applications: For teens getting ready to apply for college, they'll need to have letters of recommendation. If you want to make gratitude a more concrete concept for your teen, encourage them to recognize that the relationships they're building with their teachers now will directly impact their future admissions in college. Why not build that relationship with teachers through genuine demonstrations of gratitude?


Does your teen have a hard time saying "thank you?" Do you ever wonder if your child appreciates everything that you do? Curious to hear more about building gratitude skills? Contact Kelsey at compassionatecounselingstl@gmail.com. Kelsey specializes in anxiety and anger management strategies for kids and teens from age four through college. She works with children, teens, families, and college students in Webster Groves, Brentwood, Kirkwood, Creve Couer, and surrounding areas.