Gratitude for Kids: Pipe Dream or Possible?

gratitude for kids

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Gratitude for kids can be so hard to achieve, but it is possible! Here are 4 concrete tips that have helped in my family. As you can see, we need to practice it more!


It was Mother’s Day, and my kid was CRABBY.

Like, Not-Quite-Preteen-Angst-Crabby, the kind that only comes when a privileged child sees someone else having a special day and decides that it has now become The Worst Day Ever because they are not the centre of attention.

  • He didn’t want to bring his scooter to the park, until we got there and he realized he really did want some wheels. Oh, the misery when he realized we would not turn around and go back home to collect his scooter or bike.
  • He didn’t get a special drink at lunch. Apparently he’s over having clean water to drink. That’s so 2018.
  • It was too windy.
  • It was too sunny.
  • Someone yelled at him on the slide because they were playing a game and thought he was playing too but he thought they were mad at him.
  • Someone else got to the swing before him.
  • When he finally got to the swings, he decided to test each one to see which was the least squeaky, and in the middle of his experiment, someone else took the least-squeaky swing. Abomination, right?

I snapped.

(Mentally.)

As he wailed about having to swing on the squeaky swing, he found his arm caught in the Mom Vice.

Have you ever experienced the Mom Vice?

My mom used to use this trick. It involves long fingernails, two naughty children, and one super irritated mom. Mom grabs her children’s arms and hauls them off. It looks fairly gentle on the outside but when the hauling is done, there are some nice fingernail-sized dents left in the arms to remind the children of their naughtiness.

Fortunately for my son, I keep my fingernails short. But he did get hauled off the swing and onto the grass behind the playground.

I seethed, but I knew that if I whined about it being My Day and complained about his attitude ruining My Day, then I’d really be no better.

It was time to take the high ground.

So I bent down.

“This attitude stinks.”

That much was obvious even to him. He dug his toes into the grass.

“You have a choice here.”

That got him to at least look up. No eye contact, but at least he was listening.

“I know you’re having a bad day. But you can CHOOSE to look at all the bad stuff and focus on it, or you can CHOOSE to find the good stuff and look at that.

“If you only look for the bad stuff, you’ll find bad stuff. There is always bad.

“But if you CHOOSE to look for the good stuff, you’ll find it, because even on the very worst of all days, there is good.”

It was time to really work the words in. I lowered my voice and tears sprang to my eyes.

“Even on the day my sister died, there was good. Because there is ALWAYS good.

The lecture over, but the lesson on gratitude had just begun.

He was kind of nodding in affirmation by this point, but he wasn’t totally sold on the idea.

So I pushed further.

“I want you to think of 3 things right now that you can be grateful for.”

Crickets.

Apparently the beautiful sunny day and picnic lunch at the playground didn’t come to mind. So I reminded him.

“How about this picnic lunch? That’s special, right?”

He nodded. But that wasn’t enough. I made him say it out loud.

“Thank you God for this picnic lunch.”

The next item came a little easier, although I still had to prompt him. The third came quickly, and afterward, he smiled.

Verbal gratitude was like a bright ray of sunshine that chased away the storm cloud that hovered over his afternoon.

The power of gratitude for kids

Sometimes you “got to kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.” (Bruce Cockburn)

Gratitude is one powerful way to kick at the darkness.

Activities to teach gratitude to your kids

  1. When your child is having a bad day or feeling anxious or worried, get them to make a list of 3-5 things they can be grateful for.
  • DO make them say it out loud.
  • DO make them literally say “thank you for ________.”
  • DON’T just let them make a list. It’s important to actually say “thank you”.
  • DO model this for your kids. Speak out the first item on the list!

2. If ingratitude is a constant struggle with one child, have them make an ongoing list.

  • Start with just a piece of paper. One night I was doing this with one of my other boys, because he was really anxious about school. I started the list while we snuggled in bed, then left it with him to finish. Download and print my free journal pages here.
  • If they love it, buy a gratitude journal or blank journal.

3. If ingratitude and complaining is a constant struggle for your whole family, make an ongoing family gratitude list. We like to make family gratitude lists really obvious and fun.

4. Serve others.

Serving those who have less than them will help your kids get perspective on their problems, and also give you something to reference when they’re feeling extra entitled.

A helpful picture book on gratitude for kids

A few days after the Mothers Day Incident of 2019, I opened a package from Jelly Telly. As we tore through the books, we chose this one to read:

This book drew us in because we could definitely identify with having a BAD Bad Day.

The book was a perfect fit.

In it, Buck discovers that a happy mask won’t make him happy when he’s had a BAD Bad Day. Instead, he discovers the power of gratitude as his friend Sunday School Lady takes him on Bible adventure INSIDE a flannelgraph. (seriously, I did not make that up!)

He learns that giving thanks to God is powerful, AND he learns that no matter what, there’s always one thing to be thankful for:

We don’t know thank God for giving us what we want. We also thank God for being who He is. All good. All loving. All powerful. All the time. Jesus and Jehoshaphat knew that God is all those things – even on bad, bad days!

Buck Denver’s BAD Bad Day (See this book on Amazon)

One more note on choosing gratitude…

Gratitude is powerful, but not just for kids. The only way I was able to keep my sanity (mostly) that day at the park was because I WAS speaking and thinking gratitude during the day. It helped me maintain my calm and my peace despite the outward circumstances.

I want to leave you with a poem today:

One ship sails East,
And another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
‘Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That tells the way we go.

Like the winds of the sea
Are the waves of time,
As we journey along through life,
‘Tis the set of the soul,
That determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife. 

Tis The Set Of The Sail — Or — One Ship Sails East, Ella Wheeler Wilcox