5 Tactics to Train Thankful Kids

Are you familiar with the story of Rip Van Winkle? He’s a guy who fell asleep and woke up 20 years later. That’s what 2014 feels like in retrospect. Except I haven’t been sleeping. In fact, I need more sleep.


In the course of a busy life it’s easy to get caught up in a self-centered lifestyle. Not that you are a selfish jerk, but that your world revolves around you. Even as a dad with 3 kids this is incredibly hard to resist.

These thoughts constantly enter my head:

  • I’m tired.
  • I’m hungry.
  • I don’t want to wash the dishes.
  • I want to watch tv.
  • I don’t want to change a dirty diaper.
  • I want to read a book.

I, I, I,…

We have a natural bent to serve our own self-interests. And the adorable little wrecking balls who destroy our homes with LEGOs and glitter are just as self-focused as we are. The catch is their tiny world is at cosmic odds with ours.

A wise man once said,

“If you change the way people think, you can change the world.”

The same applies to our kids. That’s why we work so hard to impart values and mold behavior.

So how do you guide a child’s path away from a selfish mindset and toward a grateful one? Here are some positive tactics will help.

  1. Lead by example. That’s right. If you want your kids to be grateful than you’ve got to exemplify that behavior. Express appreciation for your spouse in front of your kids. Tell your children “thank you for _.” when they are kind to a sibling, do well in school, clean their room, etc. Take advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate genuine appreciation for others in ear shot of your kids.
  2. Kindly remind them. Our toddler says “Thank you, Daddy” (or “Thank you, Mommy”) more than half the time because we’ve repeated “Thank you, Daddy” a million times to gently reminded her as she’s learned to talk. Not only does it reinforce the behavior, but it’s also really nice to hear.
  3. Volunteer together. The quickest way to grow grateful kids is to serve others. By physically participating in acts of service we are actively engaging the body and mind to focus on someone besides ourselves. Some kids are harder to “crack” than others, but be patient.
  4. Donate money or toys. Find a worthy cause the family can support together. When kids give to others it triggers a natural comparison. By recognizing their fortunate circumstances, it helps children realize they’ve done nothing to deserve such a good life. An added bonus is that kids often have bigger hearts than we do and are likely to be motivated toward further charity.
  5. Send “thank you” notes. It sounds old fashioned (and you might have to send out a search party for stamps), but taking the time to write down why you’re thankful for someone and drop it in the mailbox give us the opportunity to slow down and appreciate people who care about us. It’s is a small gesture with a significant benefit.

We could all stand to be a bit more grateful.

And who knows? While you are training your kids to be thankful, you might become more thankful too.

Photo Credit: Don McCullough via Compfight cc