Gratitude activities for kids | research backed activities + why it matters
Why is gratitude important?
Fun gratitude activities for kids
Learning to be a grateful person isn’t just a case of saying “please” and “thank you” in all the right places.
Genuine gratitude has the power to make us and those around us happier and healthier.
It has been associated with higher levels of happiness, a stronger immune system and even lower blood pressure.
Why is it important to teach kids gratitude?
As parents we can’t control every difficult situation our children may experience growing up.
What we can do to help them cope with challenges is to build their resilience.
This resilience will help them to brush off hurtful comments or to carry on when something goes wrong.
It’s one of the most important skills our future adults will need.
But, what does resilience have to do with gratitude?
Imagine that everyone of us carries a bucket around wherever we go. We add a cup of water to our bucket every time something makes us feel good.
If something happens that makes us feel bad then our bucket springs a leak.
The emptier it gets, the worse we feel. The more work we’ll need to do to top it up again.
That’s how resilience works.
We can top up our kids buckets which will help them deal with the ups and downs of life.
And, this is where gratitude comes in.
A fantastic way of filling our kids resilience buckets is by teaching them healthy mental habits.
Take practicing gratitude as an example. Numerous scientific studies have shown that it significantly increases mental well-being and contentment.
So, people who practice gratitude are likely to be less effected by negative situations.
Taking time to think about the good in their life helps them to put all the negative stuff into perspective.
What does gratitude in kids look like?
Gratitude isn’t a rehearsed “please” or “thank you” it’s about learning to focus on what’s good in our lives.
It’s about being thankful for the things we have and noticing the little things that we often take for granted.
We can teach young children gratitude through daily habits and by doing gratitude activities for kids.
How do you teach kids to be grateful?
Did you know that you can actually train a brain to be more grateful?
The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that regulates critical bodily functions.
When you feel gratitude or do something kind your hypothalamus floods your brain with dopamine (a natural high) which motivates you to continue spreading joy.
So, today when I reminded our four year old that it was our Community Art Club, he asked to bake muffins to take with us again (with a big grin on his face.)
It wasn’t because he loves muffins (although he does!).
It was because he remembered that warm rush he felt when his friends thanked him for his kindness.
His friends gratitude made him feel good which made him want to be kind again.
Gratitude and kindness spreads.
Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for. – Zig Ziglar
Now, here is where it gets really interesting… regularly expressing gratitude actually changes the structure of your brain on a molecular level making you healthier and happier.
I think that’s a pretty good reason to practice gratitude ourselves and to teach our kids to be grateful too.
These ideas are research backed scientifically-based strategies for encouraging gratitude in children.
Everyday Gratitude Activities For Kids
1. Be a role model
More than anything, our kids need to hear us being grateful.
“Our children want to be like us. We provide the blueprint for what to say and what to do and in what contexts.”
Be grateful for things your kids do…
“Thanks for helping to clear the table. We get it done so much faster together.”
“I really enjoy your company on my morning run.”
Speak gratefully about others too…
“We were so lucky to see that deer in the woods. It was beautiful.”
“It was thoughtful of Granny to knit you a jacket. It must have taken a long time.”
2. Start a gratitude journal
I keep a gratitude journal as part of my bullet journal.
Download my free pdf gratitude journal booklet here(gratitude activities for kids pdf printable)
As my boys are both young I prefer to play a simple gratitude game with them most evenings. It works well to calm everyone down before bed.
We take turns to roll the dice and answer the question it lands. For example, “What have you enjoyed today?”
It’s such a nice way to encourage everyone to fall asleep thinking happy thoughts.
3. Show empathy
Research indicates that empathy is a key emotion when it comes to developing gratitude.
Help children to recognize their feelings and to find healthy methods for coping with difficult emotions.
Don’t be afraid to talk about feelings and give kids a chance to ‘press the reset button’ and try their reactions to situations again.
Thinking and talking about positive things can help to calm down angry or sad feelings and also build our resilience.
4. Nurture a growth mindset
Helping kids to develop a growth mindset will boost confidence, self-worth and self-appreciation.
This positivity will allow kids to feel grateful for who they are and what they have.
I have a free 30 page growth mindset booklet that kids can work through that will help them to understand how the brain functions.
It’s also worth considering the language we use to praise our kids as some words of encouragement will be more effective than others.
5. Place importance on experiences not things.
Try to encourage kids to see the value of experiences over things.
I don’t feel I can mention this one without talking about YouTube.
I’m not anti-screentime but I am anti-YouTube (without careful use).
Kids’ television is so closely regulated. It’s crazy but these rules don’t exist for YouTube, which is why everything your kid wants to watch looks like a really creepy commercial.
“Unboxing videos” are big money. The now 8-year-old toy influencer from Ryan ToysReview, made $22 million last year, (according to Forbes).
I tend to be pretty open with my kids about these things. We’ve spoken about how there are people making a lot of money trying to get them to buy certain toys.
No-one’s sure of exactly what goes on in a child’s brain when they watch these un-boxing videos, but they do know that they’re kind of addictive.
I know for sure than when my son watched them he cried for new toys constantly until we stopped watching “unboxing videos”.
“Ultimately you’re not learning ABCs, but you’re learning to want things. It feeds into the ‘give me’ culture and the way that they can show their part in this relationship or their investment in this relationship is by acquiring the product that’s being unboxed.”
So, avoid Youtube and encourage family to gift experiences instead of toys.
It could be a trip to the cinema, beach or spa. The time spent together is more important than any gift.
You can also vary ‘traditional’ ideas that have become over-commercialized, without making kids feel as of they’re missing out.
For example, we do an Advent Activity Calendar instead of a gift or chocolate calendar.
It’s full of fun activities to do together as a family in the run-up to Christmas.
6. Be kind.
Kindness isn’t the same as just being nice to people.
It’s an action. It’s motivated by empathy and compassion.
Kindness requires understanding and connection.
The amazing thing about kindness is that everybody benefits. The person who is giving, the person who is receiving, and event the people who are witnessing, all benefit from expressions of kindness!
So, consciously decide to spend your day looking for ways to be kind and encourage your kids to do the same.
6. Have fun with it!
There are so many awesome ideas for sharing gratitude.
Try some of these:
- Have a family gratitude jar that you fill with memorable events. Read them together on New Year’s Eve.
- Or have a gratitude jar for each child. Fill with things they did that made you smile. Read together at the end of the week.
- Make thank you cards or write letters.
- Keep a family gratitude book that everyone adds photos, notes and drawings regularly.
- Play the gratitude dice game.
- Place a twig in a jar and decorate with handwritten notes of gratitude on little leaves.
- At Christmas made gratitude baubles by placing a note of gratitude inside an opening bauble. Add to them each year
- This is often our go to if bedtime isn’t going quite to plan. Take an evening stroll around the neighborhood. We talk about the beautiful things we’re grateful for. The colorful leaves, sunset, the swooping swallows.
- Make a gratitude paper chain by writing happy thoughts on each piece of the chain.
- Scatter gratitude stones around a beach or your neighborhood. Simply decorate a pebble and leave for someone to find.
- Do a Random Act Of Kindness for somebody.
- Paint a pebble with a happy message on and hide somewhere for somebody to find.
I’d love to hear if you have any other fun gratitude activities for kids.