When life gets busy, appreciating the small moments is often forgotten. While it’s hard for anyone to start every day with a sunny attitude, there is a way to build a brighter outlook, and that’s by practicing gratitude.
Our sense of gratitude is like a muscle: By using it every day, it gets healthier and stronger. Over time, it becomes second nature to have a more positive point of view.
If this sounds too good to be true, listen to this—researchers have found that practicing gratitude can actually change the brain, leading to lower stress, more self-worth, and a stronger sense of purpose.1
If you’re ready to embrace a grateful mindset, let’s take a closer look at how kids and adults can build this positive attitude with fun gratitude activities for kids.
Gratitude for Kids: Important Lessons to Learn
What is gratitude for kids? It’s a part of their emotional intelligence that can help them gain an abundance mindset in life. Researchers have discovered that gratitude is an incredibly powerful positive emotion to teach kids that there’s a lot to be thankful for.
Kids and adults who have a more grateful outlook also tend to report:
- A healthier lifestyle and better physical health2
- Less envy, depression, and materialism3
- More life satisfaction and happiness4
- More success in school and work
While many of us have to learn or relearn gratitude as adults, you can give your child a head start by building a gratitude practice while they’re young. Here are six remarkable benefits kids can gain from practicing gratitude:
#1 Helps Kids Learn Empathy
Gratitude helps kids understand what others do for them, making them more aware of the feelings of others. When children express gratitude even for small actions, they:
- Acknowledge the effort the other person went to
- Think from the other person’s point of view
- Recognize that other people have separate feelings and needs
Researchers have even found that grateful people can maintain their empathy and stay positive even when others are aggressive or unkind5Emotional intelligence for kids can take some time to develop, but if you’d like your child to be able to handle difficult situations with grace, gratitude is a great start.
#2 Builds a Child’s Self-Esteem
Grateful children tend to be happier, more optimistic, and have stronger social support. They also report more satisfaction with their schools, families, communities, and friends. This sense of satisfaction can build a child’s self-esteem by encouraging a more positive view of themselves, too.4
It’s like a self-reinforcing cycle: When a child sees the people around them in a positive light, they also tend to view themselves more positively because they are part of that community.
#3 Strengthens Relationships
Grateful kids don’t just tend to have more support from others. They tend to give more social support as well. Humans are built to be reciprocal—we like to give back to those who give to us. Through this give and take, we also strengthen:
- Our sense of belonging
- Our roots in our community
- Our social connections
#4 Lowers Aggression
Raising a grateful child doesn’t just mean they’ll remember to say “please” and “thank you.” It’s also linked to gentler behavior and lower aggression all around, maybe because of the increased empathy that comes with gratitude.
As psychologist and researcher Nathan DeWall puts it, “A grateful heart is a non-violent heart.”5
#5 Reduces Sadness and Anxiety and Increases Happiness
Gratitude isn’t just a buzzword. Thinking about the good things in our lives actually affects the brain in several stress-busting, happiness-boosting ways. Feelings of gratitude have been shown to6:
- Increase levels of neurotransmitters related to happiness (dopamine and serotonin)
- Calm activity in the part of the brain associated with negative emotions
- Reduces levels of cortisol (the stress hormone)
With all of that said, it’s no surprise that researchers have found that children who are more grateful are also happier and less stressed.4
5 Gratitude Activities for Kids
One of the things we love most about gratitude? It’s not a trait set at birth—it can be taught. Researchers have found that grateful parents tend to raise grateful kids, likely because these parents make a conscious decision to model gratitude through their actions and intentions.7
With that in mind, we’ve collected 5 activities you can enjoy with your whole family to build a gratitude mindset. For more ideas, be sure to check out our downloadable Gratitude unit plan and free Gratitude Resources.
#1 Reading Books About Gratitude
It can be tough to find ways to explore the concept of gratitude beyond reminding your kids to write thank-you cards for their birthday presents. Sharing storybooks with characters learning about gratitude and expressing joy and thankfulness is an ideal way to dig deeper. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Honey Bear, I’m Grateful For You, by Kelly Oriard with Callie Christensen – This Honey Bear story is all about showing appreciation for our loved ones through words of gratitude.
- Honey Bear’s Gifts of Nature, by Kelly Oriard with Callie Christensen – The world around us is full of amazing things to appreciate, and Honey Bear helps kids feel grateful for everything from honeybees to sunshine to digging in the garden.
- Be A Tree! by Maria Gianferrari – With lyrical words and stunning illustrations, this simple picture book is perfect for gently teaching kids to appreciate the natural world, themselves, and the love and support of their fellow humans.
#2 Making a Gratitude Jar
A gratitude jar is a fun activity and a visual way for kids to express what they’re thankful for and access it anytime they’re feeling low. Here’s how to do it:
- Save an empty jar, clean it out, and let your child decorate it
- Each day, have your child write or draw something they’re grateful for on a slip of paper
- Fold the paper and put it in the jar
- Watch as the Thankful Jar fills with every good thing your child’s life includes
- Encourage them to pull out a slip whenever they need something to celebrate
#3 Volunteering as a Family
Volunteering is a great gratitude activity for young kids to experience appreciation firsthand. By helping others, they can see the impact of their actions and feel grateful for the opportunity to make a difference, while also participating in family bonding activities.
Here are some ideas:
- Help the animals – Visit your local animal shelter and give the cats and dogs some socialization time, collect blankets and towels to donate, or make and donate no-sew toys or beds.
- Help a neighbor – Offer to help an elderly neighbor with small chores that are difficult for them to do, like raking leaves or pulling weeds.
- Participate in a food drive – Collect canned goods with a family member and take them to your local food bank.
#4 Cooking Together
The food we eat is one of the most basic, natural things we can practice gratitude for every day. And by cooking together, you can help your child build a deeper appreciation for each meal.
Here are some ways to mix a little more thankfulness into your cooking:
- Involve your child in meal prep – Preschoolers can snap peas, wash veggies, or help stir. Older kids can measure, stir dishes on the stove (with supervision, of course), or peel veggies. It’s a chance to spend quality time together while helping your child learn to value the time and energy that goes into making meals.
- Talk about your food – We often don’t think much about where our food comes from, so start a discussion with your child about everything it takes to get that meal on your table. Think about the earth, sun, and water that produced it, the hands that picked it, the animal it came from, and so on.
- Give thanks before eating – This may or may not be spiritual, depending on your family’s beliefs, but starting a meal by giving thanks is always a good idea. You can thank anyone—the person who cooked the meal, someone who brightened your day, or even your family simply for gathering around the table.
#5 Gratitude Journaling
Journaling is a wonderful practice for many purposes. It can enhance mindfulness for kids and create a record to look back on, become part of a daily habit, or be a place where your child records the things they are thankful for each day.
Here’s how to get started:
- Let your child pick out a special journal or notebook, or give them one as a gift
- Provide crayons or glitter gel pens to make the ritual of writing in the gratitude journal more special
- At bedtime, ask your child to think of something they’re grateful for
- Pre-readers can have you write their words or draw pictures instead of writing
- Talk about what they chose and why
Grow a Heart Full of Gratitude With Slumberkins
A daily gratitude practice plays a vital part in setting your child on the path to emotional well-being. Not only can it help them appreciate what they have and remember to show gratitude towards others, but it can also lead to a happier, healthier life in adulthood. Incorporating gratitude into your child’s routine at an early age can help them build a positive outlook that lasts even in hard times.
For more ways to share gratitude with your child, be sure to check out our full Gratitude Collection. It’s packed with books, snuggly characters, downloadable resources, and more, all centered on celebrating everything that makes life special.
- Frontiers in Psychology. Neural correlates of gratitude. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01491/full
- Personality and Individual Differences. Examining the pathways between gratitude and self-rated physical health across adulthood. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23139438/
- Journal of Happiness Studies. Gratitude and the reduced costs of materialism in adolescents. https://emmons.faculty.ucdavis.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/90/2015/08/2010_1-materialism1.pdf
- Journal of Happiness Studies. The Relationship between gratitude and happiness in young children. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10902-019-00188-6
- Social Psychological and Personality Science. A grateful heart is a nonviolent heart: Cross-sectional, experience sampling, longitudinal, and experimental evidence. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1948550611416675
- Positive Psychology. Neuroscience of gratitude and effects on the brain. https://positivepsychology.com/neuroscience-of-gratitude/
- Applied Developmental Science. Grateful parents raising grateful children: Niche selection and the socialization of child gratitude. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10888691.2016.1175945?journalCode=hads20