Written by Doctor G

Thanksgiving and Thankfulness

In honor of Thanksgiving – that day that we sit at a big table and ask ravenous or comatose or bored family members what they are thankful for – I’ve re-written a post about teaching gratitude. It can be taught! Maybe not best between the stuffing and the mashed potatoes at half-time of the big game, but we have to start someplace, right?

Q: Is it possible to teach gratitude?

The first answer is of course the usual one: we have to model the behaviors we really want our kids to breathe in. Which stinks, right? It would be much easier to just TELL them to exercise, eat right, visit sick people, have a good work ethic, be polite, drive without texting, ignore celebrity gossip…

The second answer is build the habit. I believe that, especially with manners, it’s ok for kids to fake it til they make it. This means that they can learn to say “please” and “thank you” and “I’m sorry” even if they aren’t really feeling it. This is not the popular opinion on the topic; many parents believe that teaching children to parrot polite phrases that they don’t mean teaches them to be insincere. A larger question in the grand scheme of things, suffice it to say that kids will develop habits one way or the other. And most parents would agree that a habit of politeness beats a habit of thoughtlessness and entitlement any day!

How do you build the habit of gratitude? Opportunity, tools and reinforcement.


When our kids ask for something and get it, we teach them to say “Thank you!” often as the last hurdle before we actually hand over the popsicle. At the end of a meal is a natural time to thank whoever made it possible. How about in the car on the way to or from a fun activity? “Thanks for taking us to the park!” Or it’s possible to make this a part of the bedtime ritual. If yours is a family that prays at bedtime, that is a great opportunity for gratitude. Bedtime reflection does not need to be formalized as prayer – most of us naturally review our day as we lay in bed. Take the chance to mention some gratitude and your kids will too (eventually!).


There are lots of ways to express thankfulness. From formal speeches and prayers at Thanksgiving, to a quick hug or smile, the more of a “gratitude vocabulary” we give our kids the more they will be able to fit it in to different situations. My sons (and husband) seem to thank each other and show appreciation by shoving or lightly punching each other at times. I don’t ask…


Wow it feels good to hear thanks. If someone’s gratitude inspires you to do something else for them, point it out. Not as a reward per se, but as the natural order of things. If your child remembers to thank the parent of their playdate for having them over and it elicits a smile or a follow up invitation, mention that on the way home. Also, thank them for stuff, big and small.

The third answer is the hardest for me. Slow down and smell the roses. That is the most certain road to feeling grateful for what is. And the easiest lesson to teach around the Thanksgiving table!


What do you do to teach gratitude?

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