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4 Ways to Foster Gratitude in Our Kids During the Holidays and Beyond

teach teens gratitude


Not to be overly dramatic, but gratitude might be the most life-saving habit we can teach our kids. Gratitude can feel like a warm and fuzzy nice-to-have when in fact, loads of research shows that practicing gratitude literally changes the structure of the brain.

When we foster a sense of gratitude in our kids, we’re giving them the gifts of:

  • Stronger relationships and community
  • Empathy for others
  • Self-esteem
  • Optimism and satisfaction
  • Resilience
  • Better physical health

Whoa. If a vitamin listed these benefits on its packaging, we would line up as moms to grab a few bottles.

Though gratitude doesn’t come in capsule form, there are some easy things we can do as moms to foster a real sense of gratitude in our tweens and teens. We just need to be intentional about it.

  1.       Say thanks

I saw the best Halloween meme this year: “Moms at Halloween Be Like:  Did you say thank you? Stay off the grass! Wait for your brother! Only take one!” I laughed because I absolutely have yelled all of those things to my sugar-buzzed children over the years.

Most moms stay on top of encouraging younger kids to say please and thank you, but we can step this up with our tweens and teens because they can do more. This likely looks like thank you emails or (gasp!) hand-written thank you notes. Taking the time to stop long enough to say thanks in a tangible way helps kids reflect on WHY they’re grateful and bounces the good vibes back on them in the form of better attitudes.

I teach at a large public university and hear from employers all the time that students applying for entry-level jobs almost never send hand-written thank you notes anymore – and that it makes an impression when they do. I save thank you emails from students in a folder labeled “Sunshine File,” but the hand-written notes on my bulletin board still win my heart.

Keep a stash of note cards and stamps in your house and look for times to lean on your kids to go that extra mile to write one out and stick it in the mail. They can thank a grandparent for a gift, thank a teacher or coach for some extra help, or even drop a note to a friend just because.

Look for opportunities to do the same yourself so your kids see your example. I try to keep a few cards in my purse so if inspiration strikes, I can write a few sentences and drop it right in the mail before I forget. I think the inspiration for this came from a former student who would leave job interviews and immediately sit in the lobby to write her thank you note and put it in the next mailbox she saw.

  1.       Write it down

As a former journalist and a communication professor, I’m a pretty big fan of the written word. Writing things down forces us to focus and gives us something tangible we can reflect on. Research shows this to be true, and my personal experience as a teacher and as a mom supports it.

Consider gifting a gratitude journal to your tween or teen with creative prompts, or setting a daily reminder in their phone to write down two things they’re grateful for.

It’s easy for us and our kids to get busy and pulled along by life – physically and emotionally. Pumping the brakes long enough to list reasons we’re grateful helps us notice the small, everyday things we might otherwise overlook and gain a little perspective.

A good friend of mine keeps a journal on her kitchen table so her family members can take turns adding to it. They number each new entry because seeing the number grow made such a big impact.

  1.       Help others

Tweens and teens focus a lot on themselves because they’re figuring out who they are and becoming more independent. This can become a slippery slope into a really selfish mindset. Gratitude forces us to look up and out – away from our own wants and problems. A tangible way to do this is to look for ways to help others, which makes us less likely to take things like our health and family for granted.

We can connect our tweens and teens with volunteer opportunities or even just encourage them to help neighbors or friends. The change of place – and see what others are facing or- can bring a much-needed change of perspective.

  1.   Keep it front and center

Placing gratitude triggers in key places can serve as good reminders to continually ask “What can I be grateful for in this moment?” Many small business retailers on Etsy sell beautiful wall sayings related to gratitude, or you can write or print a few gratitude quotes to post around the house (as a mom of tweens and teens, I recommend on the fridge and near any TVs). One of my favorite quotes is:

“Gratitude 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.” – Melody Beattie 

You can also use a gratitude image as the background on a phone or laptop, or put a great quote on a simple, handmade bookmark. Seeing those visual cues in the moment when you most need the reminder makes a big impact.

Giving the Gift of Gratitude

It’s important as parents to teach our kids tangible ways to show gratitude – and to let them experience how it also gives back to them. The suggestions above will help make gratitude a habit and a mindset that can last well beyond the holidays, keeping it front and center for not only our kids but for us as moms.

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