Strategies to Nurture Gratitude in Early Childhood
Updated: Apr 12
This post was written in collaboration with Jules Oakshett founder of EQ Prep, Drama Therapist and Parent Coach. Some of the contents of this page have also been shared via social media in conjunction with The Parent Collective.
The research on gratitude is convincing. It boosts feel good chemicals in the brain, helps people shift to a more positive mood when they’re feeling down and ultimately builds emotional resilience. While gratitude is often expressed in the conventional ways of making sure we teach young children to say “thank you”, it is also a mindset that involves being able to appreciate the positives in our lives. This is a great time of year to consider building gratitude habits. Ultimately, these habits, when nurtured in the early years, reap dividends as children grow! Here are a few ideas to help get you started:
1) Keep it localized It’s great to start by helping young children think about not only what they are thankful for, but people in their immediate community who they can be thankful for, including siblings, grandparents, teachers, the school crossing guard and the local police or firemen.
2) Be child-focused
Encourage kids to come up with ideas on how to express gratitude themselves—double chocolate chip cookies with vanilla ice cream is totally acceptable!
3) Tap into your child’s interests Tap into your child’s interests to help engage and motivate them. As an example, if your child loves to draw, encourage them to draw a picture for someone else. If they like to be in the kitchen, encourage them to bake cookies with you to drop off at a neighbor’s house or if your child likes to be on video help them send a ‘thank you’ video to someone they know. By engaging their own special interests and talents, acts of gratitude will feel more meaningful and fun for them.
4) Connect the act and the feeling
Reinforce how it feels to be on both the giving and receiving end of gratitude. By doing this, we can help children associate the feelings they experience with the act of giving or receiving.
5) Help your child reflect on both small and big moments in the day
It’s great to be thankful for the double-chocolate chip ice cream cone with grandma, but it’s also great to be thankful for when someone held the door open for you at the store. Drawing your child’s attention to small and big moments in the day is a great way to remember that what we are grateful for comes in all shapes and sizes.
6) Make it magical Young children love the notion of superheroes, fantasy and magic! Let them be the thankful “superheroes” in the family, aka “Captain Thankful” or the “Gratitude Ninja” and help them look out for things to be thankful for or deliver messages and gifts to others in a secret and surprising way. This helps keep it fun and motivating and will ultimately help them want to do more.
7) Keep a ‘gratitude’ journal Every night before bed have your children write or draw 2-3 things ‘good things’ from their day for which they are grateful. This is a great way to reflect on the positive, especially after a hard day, and a reassuring way to help send children to bed.
8) Role Play For children who may be shy and find it hard to say “thank you”, it’s best to focus on positive reinforcement and the way gratitude helps other people feel. You can role play this idea with puppets or stuffed animals to make this come alive for kids.
9) Stay away from guilt and shame
Remember, gratitude is not about how much you’ve been able to give your children, but rather, helping children feel grateful for and recognizing what they do have.
10) Model, model, model Kids are watching us and how we show appreciation in our everyday lives. Find moments in your day to thank your children for little things they do. Not only does this allow you to notice something your child did well that you want to appreciate them for, but also positively reinforces that behavior for them.