How to Raise a Thankful Child (Yes, It’s Possible)

A noted pediatrician, author, mother and grandmother reveals the secret of teaching our kids gratitude

Do you get discouraged by your child’s complaining?

She doesn’t get to use apps that her friends do.

You won’t let him buy any more video games.

No matter what the situation, the bottom line is this: Most parents feel their kids don’t appreciate what they have because they always want more.

Can we raise a child to be grateful?

As one who has seen thousands of kids grow up — some thankful but most not outwardly so — here’s what I have found helps kids learn gratitude.

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1.) Give your kids fewer gifts. When they get less, kids appreciate what they do have more.

Loving parents want to give their kids the best of everything. I understand this because I felt that way, too. (Now I want this for my grandchildren.)

But here’s what we all must realize: Too much stuff overwhelms children. That’s why they hardly notice what they’re opening by the time they get to the umpteenth gift.

It isn’t their fault. They are simply overwhelmed. Rather than stop and enjoy gifts one, two and three, seeing 10 in front of them prompts an eagerness to see what numbers four through 10 are.

Most of us make this very mistake with young children whose gifts are less expensive.

But trust me, giving gifts even to a toddler can make that child feel anxious.

So, if you must give more than three or four gifts, spread them out over time so that the child can enjoy each and every gift.

2.) Leave a gift or two behind so the children can work for it or get it later. Most of us want to give our kids the gift they really want most.

You can give it, but remember, a child’s wants change quickly — so even if you give the gift you believe will satisfy her heart, in two weeks she’ll likely treat it like any other toy she has.

Receiving gifts is great.

It is also important for kids to earn gifts.

This allows them to understand that work goes into giving.

And it is the work that makes gifts more special.

3.) Help them pick out gifts for others. Most kids focus on what they want and this is natural. So help them think of what a sibling, aunt, uncle or neighbor would like.

Even if it doesn’t cost anything, help them give that gift.

Have them go to the store, contribute some of their allowance, wrap the gift and then give it themselves.

4.) Give a gift to World Vision or Compassion International or another similar organization. With World Vision, they can pick out a cow, sheep, chicken, etc., to give to a family.

This will help them begin to appreciate that others have far less than they.

Having them “adopt” a child from Compassion International (or other organization) to whom to give gifts will keep them involved in the child’s life for months to come.

They can post the child’s photo on the refrigerator, write to the child, and pray for him or her daily.

5.) Help them give gifts that cost them nothing but time. I love getting gifts from others that don’t cost anything. One friend commits to having lunch on a specific day in January.

Your kids can give the gift of spending time with a grandmother or other family member.

If your child gives gifts of her time and energy, have her pick a specific day to give that to the receiver.

For instance, she will go to Grandma’s on January 10 and help clean her garage, cook with her, or do something she needs done around the house. Gifts like these make a real difference — and share a giving spirit as well.

6.) Have them write a thank-you note. Writing handwritten notes seems to be a lost art these days.

So bring it back.

Have your kids handwrite a note saying thank you for a specific gift and send it in the mail.

Writing will remind them to be thankful for the gift.

7.) Attend a Christmas meal served to the needy. Every town has a soup kitchen where food is made and served and even delivered to people’s homes on holidays.

Take the whole family and prepare meals, set tables, pour drinks or drive meals to shut-ins homes. I promise, when you get back home to open presents, your kids will appreciate their gifts more.

I have even seen kids want to take a gift and give it to another child in need after serving him/her.

You can’t hound your kids to be grateful — but you can lead them down a path that will develop gratitude in them.

There are other ways to nurture appreciation, so be creative.

Lead. Don’t tell your kids to do something that you aren’t willing to do so go along with them.

Remember, helping kids be grateful takes time.

So be patient — but never give up.

Why? Because living with a grateful heart is one of the keys to a life of happiness.

The opinions expressed by contributors and/or content partners are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of LifeZette.

meet the author

Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the book “Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need” (Regnery Publishing), along with a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.

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