The Simplest Way to Teach Gratitude This Holiday Season

by Jessica Peters | Lakeshore Professional Development Specialist

Thank you—a great message during the holiday season, but an amazing message for every day.

Being grateful and able to express gratitude to those in your life who make you happy, love you, help you and take care of you starts as early as the toddler years. Showing gratitude can be done in many ways—verbally, with gestures such as a hug but also with written notes.

Kids are going to get gifts over the holidays. What better way to teach the concept of gratitude (and practice handwriting!) than to have them write thank-you notes?

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Realizing when someone has done something nice for you and showing appreciation can be taught in classrooms and in the home. Adults can and should model as well as encourage various ways to show gratitude.

As kids get older and enter preschool classrooms, they can start to say thank you in notes and cards. Learning to say thank you and show gratitude is a large part of development and helps the growth of social-emotional skills, language skills, cognitive skills, literacy skills and fine motor skills. Saying and hearing thank you increases a child’s connection to others and increases the child’s sense of belonging to a community. Studies have shown that people who are able to express gratitude also have more empathy, tend to be more optimistic and experience less stress. Understanding the feeling of gratitude, being able to label that feeling and knowing what prompted that feeling are all social-emotional skills. When you feel grateful, highlight that feeling for a child and explain why you are grateful. Modeling this feeling is the best way for children to begin to understand and experience gratitude. When you see children doing something nice for each other, highlight those moments by asking the child if she feels grateful. If so, did she let the other child know? The more we practice showing gratitude, the more it becomes second nature.

It’s easy to say thank you to someone who gives you a Christmas gift, but what about someone who does something for you on a regular basis? Even as adults, we often miss opportunities to show when we are grateful. In order to encourage reflection, brainstorm with children to remember all the times in a day when someone does something for us that makes our day a great one (cleaning the classroom, cooking our food, etc.). Talk with children about ways you can let those people know that you are grateful. Could you write a thank-you note? Could you tell the person—or maybe even give him a hug or applause? At the snack or dinner table, have everyone say two things or name two people they are grateful for from their day. Over time you can add to this by saying how the child did—or will—show their gratitude.

Writing thank-you notes is also a wonderful way to develop fine motor writing skills as well as cognitive and literacy skills. In a writing center, have thank-you card templates children can copy. With art materials children can paint a picture to turn into a thank you, or create a thank-you card with art materials, stamps and writing materials. In the toddler and early preschool years, drawing a picture with a message dictated for an adult to write can be a very meaningful thank-you note.

Expressing gratitude offers a sense of joy for the giver—and the recipient. What a great way to build lifelong memories and connections!