8 Powerful Ways to Foster Gratitude in Kids

gratitude in kids

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When did you last see genuine gratitude in kids?  Was it Christmas or a birthday? For me, it was a few years ago beneath the scorching Caribbean sun when my family and I delivered gifts from an American church to a fledgling Haitian orphanage.  Our ramshackle Land Rover traveled off the beaten path to deliver wrapped boxes to seventeen kids that would change our sense of gratitude forever.

It was the first time the children at the orphanage had EVER received a gift.  They were grateful beyond any American kid’s comprehension.  After distributing the boxes, we spent the next ten minutes showing the kids how to open a wrapped gift.  The opened boxes contained items of great use to the kids, like soap and toothpaste, and one toy.  One sweet little girl didn’t want to open her toy; instead, she just sat and happily held the unopened box that contained her very first doll.

Entitlement is like a noose that strangles gratitude Click To Tweet

Parents can loosen the noose of entitlement by practicing some seemingly unconventional ways that foster gratitude in kids.

1.   Garden Together to Foster Gratitude for Food

Fast food chains, supermarkets with ready made foods, order and deliver to your door meals relegates food to just another necessary activity: to eat and fill the stomach.  Eating instant foods while playing instant entertainment (video games) mixes a recipe for instance gratification which often leads to ingratitude.

There is nothing “instant” about a garden. In order for your garden to produce a harvest, you must work and sweat.  Joel Salatin, farmer, environmentalist, and author of Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World, and environmentalist adds, “Children’s laboring in gardens is both attitudinally and physically positive.

Gardening to Foster Gratitude


Garden Gratitude Lesson 1: Laboring in the soil, in the heat, and working with their hands, which much of the world does without a choice, teaches children how to put food on the table and reconnects them with their food.  After a season of gardening, you might notice your child’s awareness and appreciation for food during your next visit to the supermarket.

Garden Gratitude Lesson 2: You don’t always get what you want even when you work hard.  So you and your child toil endlessly in the garden, you anticipate fruit from your labor, and then suddenly a disease decimates one of your vegetable crops. Even though one variety of vegetable was lost to disease, that still leaves you with the rest of the garden to water and weed. 

Garden Gratitude Lesson 3: Quality time with your kid doing something together that will benefit the family.

A garden provides you and your child with a gathering place that is calm (even if you urban garden), an inexpensive, an unplugged, and an undistracted place in the outdoors to share thoughts, exchange ideas, unwind from the day, or just bask in the quiet.

No matter what your landscape looks like or the size of your yard, there are many ways to garden.  If your yard is not conducive to gardening, then ask a local farmer to rent a small plot to your family.  If renting a plot is out of the question financially, then volunteer for someone who has a large garden or a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in exchange for some of the harvest.

2. Serve People to Foster Gratitude For Others

A local nursing home or assisted living facility is a great place to serve people.  Yes, at first, my kids found the experience to be uncomfortable, smelly, and sad.  The visit wasn’t about them.  It was about others.  They managed to shove their discomfort in their pockets long enough to deliver a handful of potted pansies to a few elderly patients.

Then, the next time we went to the nursing home to visit a friend from church, the discomfort had time to melt away.

Fostering Gratitude in Kids

3.  Volunteer in a Developing Country to Foster Gratitude for What You Have

Just one time, exchange going on a cruise or to Disney for one week in a developing country where your kids see, first hand, that our First World problems often pale in comparison with the day to day survival in a developing nation.  My kids learned to live without the convenience of indoor plumbing, electricity, and fast food chains (not one in sight since our flight left Miami).  For ten days, they ate food they didn’t recognize or like.  For the first time in their lives, my kids were the minority in both color and language.  They didn’t just survive; they THRIVED. The trip caused them to rethink the overused statement, ” I am starving” because they witnessed people who are truly hungry.

We went to this little developing country thinking we could make a change to it, but the little developing country forever changed us.

4. Practice Hospitality to Foster Gratitude for the Downcast, the Hurting, and the Lonely

By hospitality, I am not referring to polishing the silver or brushing up on your Bird of Paradise napkin fold.  I am referring to the type of hospitality that builds confidence and compassion by simply opening up your home and your heart to people.  It can be risky. Hospitality, “meets the most basic need of the human being to be known and to know others,” attests Lonni Collins Pratt in her heart bending book, Radical Hospitality.  “Hospitality,” she expresses, “is the answer to hostility.”  We are commanded to love our neighbor; “hospitality is how.”
Make hospitality a family affair.  Invite the outcast, the foreigner, the unacceptable person and offer them a seat at your table.  It will stretch your heart and theirs too.


5.  Develop the Art of Conversation to Foster Gratitude for Others by Listening

Too often, the favored social media platform serves as the host/hostess and our kids are its guests.  The missing component with relying on hashtags, likes, and retweets to affirm friendship is that it avoids any emotional connection.  It breeds narcissism.  Help your children become great listeners.  When kids are young, invest in a conversation game or teach them to throw the conversation ball back and forth.

6.  Read to Foster Gratitude for the Sacrifices Others Made for Your Benefit

Reach back in history’s timeline to books published before the 19th-century when people grappled with different obstacles than the ones that ensnare us in the 21st-century.  As you spend hours traveling back in time, you can draw inspiration and encouragement from the lives of people who bravely fought, generously gave, and diligently labored. Read living books like Trial and Triumph about people like Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, who gave away his wealth to help the poor and bravely proclaimed the gospel to people in high places of influence as well as to the lowly paupers.  Settle on the couch with your kids and read about the beautiful duchess, Elizabeth of Hungary who emptied her royal treasury to feed the hungry.  I agree with Rosaria Butterfield’s reminder, “we honor God with our reading diligence. We honor God with our reading sacrifice. If you watch two hours of TV and surf the internet for three, what would happen if you abandoned these habits for reading the Bible and the Puritans?”

7.  Maintain a Gratitude Journal

Kids readily dump thoughts on social media, so you know there is no doubt of their capability of expressing thoughts and feelings in written form.  Require your kids to maintain a Gratitude Journal.  If you need to entice them with an electronic journal, go ahead, but I recommend a simple paper bound journal. I know paper and pencil seems archaic in the eyes of millennials but people tend to hold onto and cherish a physical journal that will someday be reread.
Scale the writing according to your child’s ability.  Depending on the age of your child, if necessary, your child can dictate to you his gratitude list.

8. Teach Kids to Express Gratitude For How They Were Designed

Drop the one size fits all graduation plan for your child.  It’s commendable that you want to execute the best plan to ensure success for your child after high school graduation.  However gently you coerce your kid down the college path, it might not fit the way he is designed.  Most parents assume that every kid, in order to be successful, should attend a four-year college or university.  Let me propose this, “How many times have you swiped your card in the last year for home appliance repairs or home maintenance projects? ”  If your repairman or handyman is anything like mine, he doesn’t wear a sweatshirt from his fraternity days nor does he have his college alma mater on his license plate. What he is though is the best at what he does.

The friar, Brother Luke, in Marguerite de Angeli’s Yearling Newbery book The Door in the Wall reminds his handicapped friend Robin that “We can only do the best we can with what we have.  That, after all, is the measure of success: what we do with what we have.”

Before you follow the Top Ten Things Every Parent should Do to Help Their College-Bound Kid checklist, first consider his abilities, character, dreams, and above all what he is commissioned by God to do with his life.

So which one of these powerful ways to foster gratitude in kids will you try?  Or, if you have implemented any of these ideas before, did they evoke change?

Some of My Favorite Resources to Help Foster Gratitude in Your Kids:

Folks This Ain’t Normal A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World

Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love: Benedict’s Way of Love, 2nd Edition


The Art of Children’s Conversation
Melissa & Doug Family Dinner Box of Questions (Mini)


My First Gratitude Journal: A Write-in, Draw-in Gratitude Journal for Kids

Read Books

Trial and Triumph: Stories from Church History

A Charlotte Mason Companion

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Crystal Twaddell

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  1. Gail Rayfield on February 11, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    At dinner, after Grace, we go around the table and say what we were thankful for that day.

  2. […] I’m excited to announce this week’s Featured Fresh Find is Denise Sultenfuss over at Holy & Healthy! […]

    • Denise Sultenfuss on March 17, 2017 at 10:43 am

      Over the moon excited Crystal! Thank you for the shout-out.

  3. Naomi Fata on March 17, 2017 at 5:46 am

    What great ideas. Teaching my kids gratitude is a work in progress as I get caught up the the daily tasks of life,

    • Denise Sultenfuss on March 17, 2017 at 9:11 am

      I know Naomi, me too. The hope is to keep gratitude a constant practice.

  4. Jennie on March 17, 2017 at 7:54 am

    Yes and yes, so important and such a great list!!

    • Denise Sultenfuss on March 17, 2017 at 9:13 am

      Thanks, let me know if you put any of these into practice. I know that for our family visiting a developing country was life-altering! God bless.

  5. Tanya Gioia on March 4, 2018 at 10:06 am

    The mission trip is in my mind. My children and I are missing what it really means to be open to loving all kinds of people.
    I struggle with gardening in Colorado. We tried it once. Such a short season.
    I truly hear you about college. When folks mention it I say- What are you hoping for from the experience?

    • Denise Sultenfuss on March 4, 2018 at 3:41 pm

      Tanya, thanks for stopping by the blog. When we were in Haiti once, a medical relief team stayed at our hotel. Their first night in Haiti, our time dined with their team. One of the doctors commented that he believed that his team would conquer great things for the Haitians who resided in the mountains. After one day working in the mountains, his team realized that they were powerless to conquer the extreme poverty. A sobering discovery for anyone. What keeps us going back are the relationships we build with the Haitians and the opportunity to share the Gospel. If you go in with any other expectation than building relationships, you leave depressed and hopeless.

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