‘Tis the season when we talk about being thankful and how much better it is to give instead of receive. But our kids are bombarded with catalogs proclaiming that getting is so much more fun than anything else. Because of the economy, a desire to take the holidays back to their most important elements and just plain common sense, many parents are trying to balance happiness and presents with teaching true gratitude. But, it’s harder than it sounds when their little faces beg for the latest thing.

Here are a few suggestions, and we’d love to hear yours in the comments!

Be a Grateful Role-Model

Our kids really do see and contemplate everything we say. When we complain about the small bonus from work or make an off-handed remark about someone who gives us a gift we think is less than optimal, they catalog our behavior. To teach our kids to be truly grateful, we have to be truly grateful and express that regularly, not just at the holidays. Since being grateful can actually change your life, it’s a great thing to make a resolution to do more often.

Gratitude Journal

A gratitude journal is a simple notebook where you write three things every night that you are thankful for. This idea was popular a few years ago, and while it sounds easy, some days are pretty challenging.  Having a family journal where each person contributes is a powerful way to focus on gratitude all year long, and the journal makes a wonderful keepsake. If you’re a crafty family, you could make the journal yourselves, but just a simple notebook will do fine.

Other Thankful Crafts

A found tree branch can be hung with simple construction paper leaves that each hold a message of thanks from the family, making a gratitude tree. The tree also makes a great holiday table centerpiece. Your family could hang the leaves in a special ceremony once a week or once a month after collecting them daily, reading the notes aloud. Making a gratitude garland might be fun for larger groups and younger children.

Hardship Experiment

Have you ever tried to go without something for a whole day or week? Pare down the toys, special food or something else meaningful to simulate in a small way what some families are faced with and give your kids something to think about. Kids are naturally very empathetic and thinking of others going without is a powerful way to help them think of their own ideas to both help others and be grateful for what you have. Older kids who are particularly challenged with wanting big ticket items might go without a different item each day for a week, and you can talk about what is really important as a family.


Volunteering as a family is something you should do all year — not just at the holidays — but it’s even more sobering this time of year. Realizing how truly blessed we all are is a natural result of helping others. It’s really true that it is better to give than receive but until you demonstrate that, kids can’t conceive of the concept. Giving of your time is the most precious gift (as a parent and as a volunteer) and it makes a nice break from the commercial mayhem of the holiday season. Volunteer Match has opportunities categorized by family friendliness, and your kids might have a friend or two to invite along.

What does your family do to teach gratitude? Please tell us in your comments!

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