Teaching Kids Gratitude

Picture of Meri Wallace
Meri Wallace

Meri Wallace, LCSW, a parenting expert and child and family therapist for over thirty years, grew up in Coney Island, Brooklyn. Meri completed her Masters degree in Social Work at NYU, specializing in child development. Meri writes a blog for “Psychology Today”, and is the author of “Birth Order Blues” (Henry Holt and Co.) and “Keys to Parenting Your Four Year Old” (Barron's Educational Series.) She has been a columnist for Sesame Street Parents, New York Family Magazine,and Brooklyn Parent and has been a consultant to Children’s Television Workshop. She is frequently interviewed by national publications including Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, and Parents Magazine.

Children are not born understanding appreciation.


  • Gratitude is something that parents must slowly teach their children over time.
  • To help teach children about gratitude, encourage family members to thank one another for kind gestures.
  • Parents can also model gratefulness by talking about how thankful they feel in everyday life.

“I want that fire truck,” screams 3-year-old William, and he proceeds to throw himself prostrate on the floor in the store. Mom is beside herself. She has already bought him three toys since they’ve been out shopping.

She worries: “Is he spoiled? Is he a bad kid?” She wants her child to feel appreciation and gratitude for what he has already been given and to know when enough is enough.

In truth, William is just a child being a child. Children experience their wishes as urgent. To this child, it can feel as if it’s a question of life and death to have that fire truck. Children are not born with an understanding of the concepts of gratitude and appreciation. This is something that parents must slowly teach them over time.

Gratefulness is a very important concept. It means feeling appreciation: for life, other people, what you have, and what others do for you. It is important to incorporate gratefulness into your children’s daily life because it will help them to manage their desires: It’s OK to want things but you can’t have everything you want, and it is important to appreciate what you have and what is given to you. In many ways, gratefulness is a way of life that helps people function better in relationships and feel happier in life.

Here are some ways to teach your child about gratitude.

Encourage family members to thank one another for a kind gesture, word or gift. In the hustle and bustle of the day, it is something we often skip in our ongoing relationships. But it teaches your children not to take things for granted, and to feel and express appreciation.

When your family sits around the table for dinner (or is traveling in the car), along with recounting the day’s events, you can ask your kids what they were especially grateful for that day. Maybe a good friend made your child laugh, or the teacher taught her something new and exciting that gave her pleasure. As you tuck your child in at night, talk about all the things that your child can feel grateful for: her family, her health, her home, the food she has, and all her lovely friends.

Model gratefulness for your child by talking about how thankful you feel for him: his smile, his kindness, and his loving nature. When you are taking a walk in the woods, talk about how grateful you feel about the beautiful clouds in the sky and how joyful they make you feel. You will communicate that it is important to appreciate life and the beauty of the world.

You can also help your child build gratefulness into her perspective of life events. When your child is feeling jealous that her friend got to take an airplane trip and she hasn’t, you can acknowledge her wish to travel, and her feelings, while helping her get to a point of feeling happy for her friend’s joy. If she’s feeling down, another life skill to teach her is that it can alter our mood quickly when we change our focus and think about what we have and feel appreciation.

Expressing gratitude to others will also teach him about the joy it can bring him. Have him make a thank you call to a relative for a gift or a kind action. On Thanksgiving, a birthday, or any day, have him tell someone he loves about how grateful he is that they are a part of his life. He will experience the powerful feelings of love that this action awakens.