Ethan’s Thanksgiving Turkey, 2011

Thanksgiving is around the corner.  Have you ever doubted your child’s ability to be grateful instead of demanding?

Maybe you’ve observed your toddler rant and rave, and you wonder how there can be a thankful heart inside that two foot tyrant?

Are young children actually capable of showing gratitude and if so, at what age?

There’s not a magic age when a switch flips and a child suddenly can express and comprehend gratitude.  However rather early on, around age two or three, you can begin to teach children the concept of sharing and saying thank you.

There are many good habits you can teach your kids very young – things like saying thank you to a parent at mealtime or after receiving a gift.  The sooner you start those expressions of gratitude, the more your child will adopt gratitude as an attitude for life.   

Grateful kids realize the whole world doesn’t revolve around their wants and needs.  (I know, imagine that!)  Things like freshly washed laundry, a hot meal, and a cleaned up toy room don’t just happen automatically.  A mom or a dad has to work hard to make those things happen.  Realizing that someone has gone out of their way to help doesn’t come naturally to a child, but they can learn it.

By age two or three, children can talk about being thankful for specific objects, people, pets and experiences.  A toddler can say, “Thank you for the doll” or “That was fun.  Thanks!”

By age four, in addition to being thankful for material things like toys, they can express thanks for hugs, affirming words, and other caring acts.

By five or six, kids can write their own thank you notes with some help from mom or dad.  They can give a hug to a loved one, look them in the eye, and express their thanks.  They can call a relative who lives far away to say thank you for a birthday gift.

By seven or eight, a child can keep a notebook where they write down a few things they are thankful for each day.

By nine, many children are mature enough to help with a service project with those who are less fortunate.  Volunteering in a soup kitchen or orphanage can serve as a real eye opener for kids.

By their tween and teen years, your children can do just about anything you can to show and communicate gratitude to others.  They can bake cookies for others, write thank you letters to teachers and youth leaders, or participate in a short missions trip.

What are some ways you’ve taught your child to grateful?  At what age?  What did you do?


Arlene Pellicane

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