Teaching Children Gratefulness

Gloria De Gaetano

by Gloria DeGaetano,
Founder and CEO of the Parent Coaching Institute, author of Parenting Well in a Media Age, winner of the 2007 Best Products i-Parenting Award.

We teach our children to say "Thank You," to write messages of appreciation when they receive gifts, and to express gratitude toward their teachers by kindnesses throughout the school year. Gratefulness is demonstrated by these actions.

Gratefulness is a way of being in the world.

Learning this "attitude of gratitude" can be an exciting adventure. It may be a journey of a lifetime, but many steps can be taken in childhood. Here are four key ideas to try with your children:

Say What You Appreciate

We don't give up parental authority when we let our children know we appreciate them. "I appreciate how you picked up your room this morning" is an accurate statement of positive behavior, as well as an honest declaration of how the positive behavior impacts you. Children and teens hear an authentic acknowledgment from us as validation—hey, if mom thinks I'm on the right track then I must be! A healthy sense of personal agency develops from this inner recognition, along with self-appreciation. And a bonus—verbally stating what we appreciate about our children teaches them to appreciate that about themselves.

Guide Children to Express Their Thanks Often

With busy days it's so easy to move quickly from one activity to another without much thought. Pausing in order to direct children to express their thanks means we have to slow down. For example, when we shop with our child, we may have bought her new clothes or his much-wanted toy and now we're rushing to get to the grocery store to make it home in time for dinner in time to go to the PTA meeting—you know how it is. With a few deeps breaths to gain more presence in the moment, we may realize that our child hasn't yet said, "Thank You" to us for the purchase. On the ride to the grocery store, a "thank you" reminder makes sense. When we ourselves take time and allow a slower pace on occasion, we'll be able to nudge our children to express thanksgiving. Children feel what they express…and they may not feel grateful until they express it!

Encourage Time-In

The dreaded "time-out" has negative connotations for a lot of kids because it means they are taken from the family interaction and sequestered by themselves for their misbehavior. But many kids opt for their own "time-out" by choosing time with screen technology. Neither of these "time-outs" helps children enjoy developing an interior life. You can introduce your child to the satisfaction of self-discovery by encouraging time-in—a special time for your child to just sit and think on a selected topic, for time inside his/her own mind. Ask your child or teen on a regular basis to take five minutes and just sit and reflect on all the things he or she is grateful for. Talk about the experience afterwards. You can ask such questions as: "How did it feel to mentally list all the blessings in your life?" Older children and teens may be ready to keep a "gratitude journal." This is a special blank book or notebook where they write down what they appreciate in their lives.

At the Parent Coaching Institute parent coaches often encourage moms and dads to take time for writing in a gratitude journal. It may be something your entire family wants to try. Children and teens who are focused on the blessings in their lives tend to respect themselves, as well as others. They are often generous people, as well. If you want to begin this activity with you child, a terrific gratitude journal can be found at www.Imthankful.com. By writing regularly about what they are thankful for, children's ability to express gratefulness expands. You will be delighted (but don't be too surprised) when you hear your child say, "Thanks for washing my clothes yesterday. I really appreciate it!"

Accentuate Aliveness

When you remember a time when you felt deeply and fully alive, what were the qualities of that experience? When I ask this question to parents or teachers during a training weekend, many of the responses, include, "fulfillment," "immense satisfaction," "a mystical connection to something larger than myself." Feeling fully alive can mean feeling joy, but not necessarily. Many people have experienced a peak life moment when in despair or grieving over the loss of a loved one.

I was first introduced to the concept of aliveness when asked such a question as above by Dr. Charles Johnston, a Seattle-based psychiatrist and founder of the Institute for Creative Development. In his book, The Creative Imperative, Dr. Johnston defines "aliveness" as "…the amount of creation, the amount of 'living reality,' embodied by a particular act or situation…. aliveness is a direct statement about, and measure of, purpose. We feel purpose and 'are' someone precisely to the degree we risk living from, and in relation to, what makes us most alive." (1)

What makes your child feel most alive? What makes you, your family, your spouse feel most alive? These are important questions because when you answer them, you know more about your strengths and your child's strengths. You understand yourself and your life purpose better. You see your child, your family and your spouse in new ways. By intentionally accentuating qualities of aliveness, you bring opportunity to teach gratefulness. Brother David Steindl-Rast reminds us "High peaks of aliveness are also always marked by intense gratefulness." (2) In a sense, the measure of our gratefulness could be a gage of the "amount of creation"—of aliveness—we experience in any given moment. The more often your child feels vitally alive and connected to life and to loved ones, the greater his or her capacity for gratefulness.

No matter how hectic life becomes, make time to do what you love and what energizes you and your family. Notice what your child loves to do and encourage it—where his talents shine; where her skills are developed. The light in our child's eyes, the smile on her face; the way he stands—all translate the measure of aliveness he/she is feeling. And that, of course makes most parents feel positively fully alive!


  1. Charles Johnston, M. D., The Creative Imperative: A Four-Dimensional Theory of Human Growth and Planetary Evolution, Celestial Arts, 1986, pp. 11 and 43.
  2. Brother David Steindl-Rast, Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness, Paulist Press, 1984, p. 23.

For information about Gloria's keynotes and workshops, please visit www.GloriaDeGaetano.com or contact Gloria by phone at (425) 753-0955 or by e-mail at info@GloriaDeGaetano.com. Thank you!

Copyright © 2010 Gloria DeGaetano, all rights reserved.