Gratitude Matters

June 03, 2020 3 min read

I have heard it said that gratitude is foundational to leading a good life. In my own experiences, I find grateful people a joy to be around. And I know my outlook on life, even during times of stress and uncertainty, is always more optimistic when I pay attention to gratitude. But why?

According to gratitude research, this prosocial emotion connects people to one another, improves interpersonal relationships, and increases levels of contentment. Besides all of this, gratitude just plain feels good – for both the giver and the receiver.

So, how can we pass on an attitude of gratitude to our children, especially during times of stress and uncertainty? Children begin to learn about the value of gratitude by watching adults do the following:

  • Express gratitude to others. Tell your spouse, other children, postal worker, teacher, etc. that they are appreciated. Offer a word or note of thanks whenever possible.
  • Say thank you to your child. Acknowledge when your child shares a beloved toy or offers you help carrying in the groceries. When they do something the first rather than the sixth time you ask, say thank you.
  • Focus on experiences rather than things. Gifts that require time and attention carry meaning and make memories in a way that purchased presents can’t. Experiences fill emotional reserves and gives a physical connection to gratitude.
  • Mention awe when you feel it. Make an effort to notice the changing leaves, the brilliant sky, the generosity of a neighbor. Share your appreciations out loud.
  • Be conscious of how you complain/vent in front of kids. Find something to appreciate in a challenging situation and be careful not to focus too much on what isn’t meeting your expectations. Rather, shift your attention to what you can do or say to make a positive impact on a situation. How can you bring your most compassionate self to a particular challenge?
  • Allow your child to experience envy. Acknowledge, empathize, and normalize this emotion so they can process it. Avoid using shame as a way to “teach” gratitude. This never works! A disappointed child is not an ungrateful child, s/he is just a human child.
  • Turn birthdays into opportunities to collect donations for a cause. Ask guests to donate funds or needed items to your local humane society or children’s hospital. Explore ways of supporting your community that speak to your child and their passions, as you discover them.
  • Practice generosity. When adults are generous with children (in terms of time, attention, benefit of the doubt), they learn to be generous with others.
  • Establish gratitude practices. Create an awesome jar to write down things you are grateful for all year long and then read the entries on New Year’s Day for an immediate uplift. Keep a running list of gift ideas for people you love. Write thank you cards. Share your favorite part of your day with each other at bedtime.
  • Help others without waiting to be asked. Hold the door open for a stranger, help your spouse carry in groceries, offer to help your kid clean their room when they seem overwhelmed by the task.
  • Make holidays meaningful. Focus on togetherness, giving, traditions, and making memories. This way, kids learn to appreciate the opportunities for connection that come along with holidays, rather than just the receiving of gifts.

As Jim Henson once said, “The attitude you have as a parent is what your kids will learn from more than what you tell them. They don't remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” So when it comes to gratitude, we don’t need to concern ourselves as much with teaching it as we do with living it. And I can think of no better time than now to ask ourselves, how am I living in gratitude today?


Autumn Vandiver is a preschool teacher and parent coach. You can learn more about her and her work at 

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