How to Teach Thankfulness in Young Children

Great ways to teach (and show) your preschooler generosity

Three generations of women around Thanksgiving table

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What is it that makes a person thankful and why is it that we often only acknowledge our appreciation for what is important in our lives around the holidays? While it's true that we shouldn't only be thankful at the end of the year, it's actually a very good time to talk to your children about the concept and why it is so important.

This is especially true with preschool-age children who often do best learning a new idea when it is modeled for them. So, whether it is November or March, there are easy ways for you to demonstrate to your little one the notions of thankfulness, kindness, and generosity and why they are so important.

Set a Good Example

You are your child's first and best role model. If they see you engaging in the generous behavior, they'll want to do the same thing. So if you are buying food for a local food drive or donating clothing to a church, let your preschooler know what you are doing and why. You aren't showing off or patting yourself on the back, you are demonstrating generosity in action.

Let Them Help

If their preschool is holding a toy drive, let them come with you to pick out the toy and wrap it. Explain why toys are being collected and why it is important that you help. Don't ask them to donate their own money, but if they volunteer, accept with great praise. If they have a lot of toys laying around that they no longer play with that are in good shape, consider approaching them about donating them to a needy family or local preschool or daycare center.

Put Things in Perspective

Naturally self-centered creatures, it's hard for preschoolers to grasp that there is a big world and it isn't orbiting around them. Do your best to explain that just like they do, people everywhere have different things that they need. Without being too heavy-handed, talk about how some people need warm food to eat and clothes to wear and how it is very nice when other people help out by buying these types of things.

Start Off Small

By simply teaching your child to share or to better get along with a sibling, you are one step closer to raising a child who appreciates what they have.

Learning to be considerate of others is a big lesson for a preschooler to learn and one that translates well into a bigger arena when they gets older.

Praise and Scold Appropriately

When your child does perform an act of kindness, be effusive in your approval. Say things like, "I'm so proud of you for sharing the toys at preschool." More than anything else, your preschooler wants to make you happy, so when they do, shout it from the mountaintops.

As they get older, they'll still appreciate your support but will behave in a generous fashion because it makes them feel good. At the same time, if your preschooler behaves selfishly, be sure to let them know. "It not nice and it might hurt others when you grab toys away from them. Please think about taking turns or choosing another toy."

Stress the Importance of Manners

Thank you is such a simple phrase, but it makes such a difference in a little one's behavior and how they are perceived. At first, the words may just come out of your child's mouth out of force of habit or because you are prompting — "What do we say?" — but eventually, they'll grasp the meaning behind them. Talk about why telling someone "thank you" is important. Point out a time that someone said "thank you" to them and how that made them feel good inside.

Get Them To Take Stock

The projects that my kids do every year are actually a great idea. It makes them stop and think about the people and things that matter most to them and why. In the beginning, you might be concerned if your little one rattles off a list of all the toys and things that they own, but even being thankful for material things is OK. Just be sure to help them balance the list out by pointing out the people in their life that they love too.

As your little one develops characteristics like empathy and sympathy, so too will their sense of gratitude — attributes that will help make up their value system. Teaching a child to be thankful, generous and kind is a lifelong process and one that involves lots of friends and family to help — certainly something to be grateful for.

1 Source
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  1. Decety J. The neurodevelopment of empathy in humansDev Neurosci. 2010;32(4):257–267. doi:10.1159/000317771

By Amanda Rock
Amanda Rock, mom of three, has spent more than a decade of her professional career writing and editing for parents and children.