How to Raise Thankful Kids

Encourage an attitude of gratitude with these fun family activities.

Congratulations! After years of training and countless solicitations of the magic word, your kids' auto-reply is set to "thank you." Now, if you can only get them to mean it.

"Thankfulness ranks up there with character, integrity, self-control, and shared values in a family," according to Jeff Brown, Psy.D., an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School and author of Think Positive for Great Health. Fostering a thankful attitude, he says, is an important responsibility for parents: "If your child doesn't absorb the value of thankfulness from you, who will it come from?"

With an aim toward aiding the absorption, we came up with some fun ideas for the whole family to put appreciation into action. And don't worry if your younger children aren't exactly lofty in counting their blessings. Brown calls it "a good start" if kids are thankful for things like toys, trinkets, or even the old refrigerator box they've turned into a clubhouse. "As children grow, their thinking changes, and they're better able to recognize things of an abstract nature," he says. "At that point, they might value things such as community, a warm home, or intelligence."

So let the games begin.

Thanksgiving Activities to Foster Gratitude

  • Grateful Expectations: Have a Thanksgiving countdown with a gratitude calendar. Make a base—we used painted foam core— and every day fill attached mini craft envelopes with notes describing what family members are thankful for. Opening them becomes an entertaining pairing with pumpkin pie. Pay it forward: If a note says "toys," for example, have each child offer one up for donation.
  • Talk Turkey: What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Or in this case, gobbler. We found inspiration in the Christmas book The Elf on the Shelf and a new tradition it spawned: hiding a toy elf every night for the kids to find the next day. If you don't have a tiny toy turkey in the house, buy one at a dollar store and take turns hiding it in unexpected places—we stuck ours in the medicine cabinet. Each night attach a new note of thanks. It'll surprise your family, stir anticipation, and remind everyone to be thankful.
  • Leaf Encounter: Share what you're grateful for on veneer leaves and tie them with string to make a decorative garland reminding you and your family what's important. Make your own or buy the leaves ($8.50 for a pack of eight; They can be stained, painted, or left plain.
  • Fabric of Life: Dress your table with a plain tablecloth. Fill a tumbler or bowl with permanent fabric markers and encourage each family member to write or draw one reason for thanks on the cloth each day. You'll end up with a linen full of gratitude for your Thanksgiving feast. You can add to it each year, or start over with a fresh cloth.


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