In this day and age, we have learned to be THANKFUL for what we have. If nothing else, the COVID pandemic taught us to be thankful for toilet paper, hugs and outdoor activities that allow us to feel 'sort of' normal. But research also shows that being thankful and raising kids with an attitude of gratitude can mean better physical and mental well-being, stronger senses of self-esteem, better sleep and even better immunity in our children. So...the question is: How do we raise kids to have an attitude of gratitude?

Entitlement Over Gratitude?

If you're like me, even though you like to live a minimalist lifestyle, the last couple of years (wow, already almost TWO YEARS!) have put me in the position of guilt parenting. I feel bad the world has been like it has for my little boy. I feel bad that I can't devote all the time I would like to him because of my other obligations. I feel bad he can't do stuff kids should do as kids. I feel bad his whole school routine and friend connections and basically, his LIFE has been disrupted. I feel bad we hardly see any family or go anywhere or really do anything and frankly, I have overcompensated in gifts and 'stuff' because I just feel like he's getting a raw end of the life deal these days.

And then, I worry that he's entitled. That he's not grateful because things he wants come fairly easy to him because I love him so much and want to give him things that make him happy.

I see him treat things I would have DIED to have as a kid as if it's a dime a dozen and I cringe.

Until he comes to me out of the blue (and pretty regularly, too) and says, "Mama, thank you so much for taking me to the park," or "Thank you for working so hard so that I could have that sweatshirt," or "That was such a fun day! Thank you for choosing to go there instead of do something YOU wanted to do!" and I feel like maybe, maybe we'll be okay!

How To Raise Kids With An Attitude of Gratitude

So, how do we do it? I think it's important that though we give them things, we also make sure they know things are not limitless and there IS cost--whether it's money or time. And hard as it is to tell our children, "No," learning to do so makes a HUGE difference in their attitudes. It makes the "Yes" all that much sweeter, too!

We start off with manners for our children in their very young days with the basics--"Thank you!" and the best way to raise kids with an attitude of gratitude is for YOU to live a life that shows gratitude!

That's right, to raise kids with an attitude of gratitude, be the example!

Show them how good it makes you feel to serve someone. Let them watch you leave a good comment with the manager of some place you received great customer service. Be sure to heartily thank EVERYone you come in contact with--the server at lunch, the woman who held the door open for you. Even (and especially!) your kids. Thank them for the things that they do (even if they're supposed to do them) so they know you appreciate their support and participation as a family member. EVERYONE likes to feel appreciated, and in our house? We try to outdo each other with the 'Thank you!' for things we do. It's almost like a game, but it helps us realize there is much to be thankful for.

Additionally, talk to them about how they feel when someone does (or doesn't) thank them for hard work or a job well done? Talk to them about how they feel when their best friend doesn't seem to like the birthday gift your child got them. Talk about how easy it is to make someone feel good with a simple acknowledgment, and how easy it ALSO is to make someone's day sad by forgetting to be thankful for their help.

Give them different ways to show their thanks too! Some kids love to do so with words. Others with gestures (a thumbs-up or an 'okay' sign). Some still like to draw pictures or write letters or even make videos! However your child wants to show their gratitude, let them and encourage them to do so in fun and interesting ways that show their personality and their unique gratitude.

Don't let the art of 'thank-you' notes slip away; just adjust to how best your child says, "Thanks!" and go with it!

Also take note of people who are exceedingly generous with their time, talents and resources. I always like to point out when people go to the next level for me, and I make a big deal of it. My son sees me recognize something that a lot of people just 'expect' and he sees the genuine look of thanks and gratitude when someone is truly appreciated for their kindness and generosity. When we go out of our way to note someone's kindness, our kids are much more likely to do so themselves.

In fact, spending a few minutes each day to talk about things (or people) for which we are grateful is another way to raise kids with an attitude of gratitude. When appreciative recognition and talk become our daily life, it becomes our children's too. You can do this at the dinner table, in the car after school, or even nightly as part of a bedtime ritual. You can do this orally, or consider a gratitude journal--a great way to have tangible pieces of evidence we have much for which we can be thankful!

Attitudes of Gratitude: Be Honest With Your Kids

Sometimes, we want to shield our kids from the world because we don't want them to see how sad and hard it can be. And while we don't recommend scaring your children with the harsh truth of today's world, to be honest with them is a great way to raise kids with an attitude of gratitude. You want them to know how fortunate they are, and sometimes, they only do so if they know how unfortunate others' lives are. Consider (if you can afford to) sponsoring a child who needs help. Or, if money is tight, look for ways that you and your kids can get involved in helping others. When they see how little some have, they develop a sense of gratitude for what THEY have--sometimes it takes seeing to believe. More, working within your community or another charity that is near and dear to your and their heart can really help them develop compassion and empathy for their fellow humans.

There are so many places you and your family can volunteer, and so many charitable organizations that can use donations--talk with your kids to see what interests them and they feel passionate about.

Most importantly, call out (gently) when they're not being grateful. Most kids in our country are WELL above the global poverty standard. When our littles complain about wanting chocolate milk over regular, gently tell them you understand, but it's important to be thankful for the milk in general. When they're upset about not having the latest game/book/toy/sweatshirt/shoe, remind them of what they DO have and that children all over the world are lucky to have beds to sleep on. No, you don't want to guilt your kids into compassion.

But, you do want them to know the truth of our lives--we're so lucky to have what we have in this life. There's ALWAYS something to be thankful for, even if it's just the day is over and we get to start a new one tomorrow. Give your kids THAT attitude of gratitude and watch it help them soar as adults!

Image: sondem/Shutterstock