Teaching Gratitude

Recently, I had The Talk.

If you haven’t done this yet, I’m sure you’ll do it soon. You know what I mean. In the moment when you offer a perfectly acceptable toy/snack/play option, etc. to your kid and they melt down because they wanted something else or they wanted it differently or they’re just in a bad mood and NOTHING WILL DO.

Yes, The Talk.

Granted, some moms might have taken the opportunity to see this as just a part of being a child. They get cranky, they want to express their independence, they want to be in control of their own lives. I get it. And I can completely understand and I’ve even let my girls get away with this in the past.

But on this particular day, I’d had enough. And so I put on my serious Mama face *grins*, the one that comes complete with a serious low voice and raised eyebrows and “listen to me”… “are you listening to me?”… “do you understand?” when I want to drive in my points, and I went at it.

It went something like this:

“Girls, you know how we have a house to live in and food to eat? How we have clothes to wear and toys to play with and a car that takes us places? Well, there are some children who don’t have ANY of those things.”

Then I asked them (well, actually, at this point it was just SuperGirl, the 3yo, because almost 2yo WonderGirl had already strayed away by now) if that made them sad or happy, and SuperGirl agreed that hearing that other children didn’t have all the things she had made her sad. (Cue the Mama pride that she GOT it.)

Then I asked them (SuperGirl) how she felt and how she should feel to have the nice things that she has. Answer: happy. (Yes!!)

We had just recently decided to start going through toys (because they are about to suffocate us…everywhere we turn, there are more boxes of toys; of course, it seems like Christmas to the girls every day now) to decide which ones the girls want to keep and which they want to give away. We had talked about how giving away toys was a good thing because other kids could benefit them, and I used this as an example in my gratitude monologue on how we could help others who were not as fortunate as we are.

I also pulled up some pictures from a Facebook group called The Eyes of Children Around the World to show them pictures of real children who were less fortunate. (Moms, I’ve also done this in the past to just show them children who look differently than they do in terms of clothing and piercings and race. I like to think this is a helpful thing for opening their minds to different kinds of people down the road.)

And I have two things to say about this experience, in having The Talk about gratitude.

1) Yes, I feel a little corny in starting sentences with, “Other children in So and So Country do not have…”, which reminded me of how parents used to try to convince their children to clean their plates.

2) But I also realized that I don’t want to be the kind of parent who just points fingers for reference when I want to make a parenting point and who just talks.

Before we had children, my husband and I would spend hours talking about the kind of future we wanted to have with our kids: family time that included volunteering, holidays where we would serve others, expressing our gratitude by giving others something to be thankful for. And somehow, after three years of sleep deprivation and potty training and temper tantrums, those things seemed to have lost their importance as ideals in our lives. I know it’s possible that when the girls are teenagers we’ll do those sort of things together, but I don’t think it’s enough to wait until then. I want to start now, even if it’s small. And I want to hear from you other moms–because you’ve been through the various ages and because you are amazing women with wonderful ideas. I have a few thoughts of my own, but I’d love to hear from you.

In terms of teaching your kids (no matter what age) about gratitude and community engagement, what suggestions do you have for how we can get involved? Ideas that immediately come to my mind include the holiday Angel Tree and the various programs where you sponsor a child monthly. Any others, and maybe some that include face-to-face interaction?

And, if you have experiences to share, what differences have you seen in your child/children after becoming involved in these types of activities, if any?

16 thoughts on “Teaching Gratitude

  1. Hi, Elise! As my children are grown with children of their own, I can only say that you are on the right path. Getting children to accept and willingly give away some of their toys to children that have none is a great start. I also like the idea of the Angel Tree. This is a wonderful thing for children and adults alike. Our office at NASA always bought toys for children for this cause. It’s a good feeling. I like your idea of actually showing the girls pictures of other children in countries not as well off as ours. The visual here is better than a gazillion words.

    I’m sure that when they get involved in Brownies and Girl Scouts, they will also get a chance to do more with giving back. Our daughter is a Kindergarten teacher, a Brownie leader and the mother of two little girls. The Brownies visit nursing homes taking pictures they’ve drawn and singing for the patients. In addition, they get to choose what to support with the profits from selling Girl Scout cookies. They have helped animals shelters and such. This year, they are trying to raise enough money to help buy a used van for a young man paralyzed with MS. They are really focused on this and determined to help him.

    Planting the seed of compassion at an early age is what is needed. Then you watch it grow as they grow. When they’re an adult, you will have produced people who really care in many ways. Good for you for starting early. You’re a Great Mom!!


    • Hi Connie! Thank you so much for your thoughtful response! You know, I keep forgetting about the Girl Scouts. I think I was one for a day or so when I was a little girl (don’t actually remember why I stopped), so it’s not something that comes to mind. But it should. =)


  2. So funny that you mention this topic today because I had that talk this morning! It’s candy-sharing chapel at Baby Galen’s school, and she had to bring a bag of candy to donate. The candy goes to kids at another less-prosperous church for their Halloween festival. Baby Galen could not understand that she did not get to eat the candy. She had to give it away. She is fine with giving away as long as she gets some too. Hopefully the chapel went well today, but I felt like you did–corny saying, “there are kids who have no candy on Halloween.”


    • Hi Shana! Lol. I can completely understand why Baby Galen would expect some candy. After all, don’t we teach them to share? (This reminds me of the recent realization that after all my teaching the girls to share, I’m the one who ends up being the stingiest when it comes to chocolate. “No, this is Mama’s!” 😉 )


  3. Great post! Last year my kids (all of them from the 5 year olds to the 15 year old) gave $20 of their pocket money (so that is one month’s pocket money for the older ones) and we bought chickens and books and shoes and a teacher for kids in Africa through the Tear Fund. It was really good because we got this leaflet showing us what we could choose to buy, and then we booked it online, and they sent us letters to print for each person who had donated. We put those on the Christmas tree. I think getting them to use their own money really hit home, and being able to choose what they were sending was a cool thing.


    • Wow, I love this idea! I especially love that you can “personalize” it by choosing how the money is spent; makes sense that it would bring it home to the kids. Thank you for the suggestion! And I’m so thankful to hear that you are rocking the family gratitude lessons, too. Great inspiration. =)


  4. Oh, gosh, this is a really good post, and so timely, with the holidays around the corner.

    One fun way we use to teach gratitude is to mail off a box to a soldier overseas. It’s such a GREAT way for kids to get excited about helping others. And the letters you get back are amazing.

    Another way to learn gratitude is by sponsoring a needy child through a reputable organization. We have a boy in India whom we’ve sponsored for years now through Compassion International. We just got photo updates. He’s grown so much! We send him photos of us, too, along with notes, as well as a monthly donation to help him out. The kids LOVE doing this.

    About having too many toys, we used to put some away, and then we’d switch back and forth. But I honestly don’t like the idea that we have so many toys that we have to store them. So I would give away a lot to Good Will every once in a while.

    Excellent topic.

    Good luck, everyone!


    • Thank you for the great ideas, Kieran! I do want the girls to appreciate our soldiers, and I love the idea of the girls choosing to help sponsor a child who shares their same birthday and “growing up” with them. I hope we can start doing that with SuperGirl next year. =)

      One of SuperGirl’s speech therapist’s actually suggested the box switching idea for toys, and I think that’s a fantastic idea!… We just don’t always remember to implement it, lol. I know we have a local women’s battered shelter and a local homeless program, so I’m going to reach out to them first and see if they could use the toys. Good Will seems like a good option, too. =)


  5. We wanted to bring home to our kids that there were children and families right here in our own little town who didn’t have enough to eat, and who were less fortunate than us ( it all began when a friend of oldest moved into the McMansions built at the top of our hill). So we didn’t focus on other countries but in our own community. Though I admit the “Children starving in Ethiopia” stuck with me my whole life. I still can’t leave food on my plate. (So I blame my folks for my slight… uhhhh… poochie tummy). Not sure where “children are starving” these days. In the early 70s it was Ethiopia.

    Anyway, from the time our kids were about 6 and 8, we took them to feed the homeless in our community once a month. We almost always ran into someone in the line that hubby noted had been in his class at the high school a couple years before.

    We also did the Angel’s tree through the school beginning in Oldest’s kindergarten year and had the kids pick out the gifts. And they were required to use their own money to contribute to the tzedakah (charity) at Sunday school. Usually this involved about 25 cents, but when you’re 5 or 6? That’s a lot of coinage.

    The other things we did were go to the local senior center and choose a senior who was without family for the holidays and purchase gifts for them as well. And the kids had to pick 1 or 2 toys out of their massive collections when I donated to the battered women’s shelter.

    And lastly, once my kids were older, we pointed out their friends who lived in 1 or 2 bedroom apartments with their whole family while we have a nice comfortable house. We didn’t point it out to them until they were older so that they understood the implications and could deal with it in a mature manner.

    I think you’re doing the right things. We all have “The Talk”. Keep at it. I promise by the time they grow up, you’ll see that they understand it.


    • Hi Lori! You are such an inspiration to me! I’m so encouraged that you were able and willing to do all of this with your kids, and I really appreciate what you said about the kids having to use some of their money specifically to contribute. What a great life lesson to start now so hopefully they’ll continue it as they get older. Thank you!


  6. Elise – we just went through this. Before Disney I spent three weeks cleaning out the whole house and having the trio go through there things & find things to give the children that don’t have toys and games. They now often fill the back of my husband’s truck with “things to give to Goodwill.” Also, for our birthday party, we will have children bring one book for the trio and one book for the Women’s Hospital NICU for the kids to take. They know they were in the hospital for a while and that mommy read to them and that other mommies need books to read to their babies while they’re in the hospital. I grew up with a minister dad so we were always doing soup kitchens and food and winter coat drives and the like so I want my kids to be as aware as I was that so many have so little.


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