As the hustle of the holiday season approaches, it’s a perfect time to help the kids learn how to be grateful for what they have—and how to show gratitude to others.

By Amy Palanjian
Updated November 10, 2020
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As we all know, it’s so easy to slip into the stress (and sometimes, the drama!) of the holidays. As the creator of Yummy Toddler Food and author of the kids cookbook Busy Little Hands: Food Play, I think about food and family meals a lot and I know that both of those subjects are often sources of stress when the holidays roll around. But I’ve also found that taking some time to plan deliberate ways to connect through food—and in other ways, too—can go a long way towards setting a lighter tone to last through November and December. My kids are young and while the depth of their understanding of why we do these acts of gratitude vary depending on their age (and their moods!), it’s important to me that we instill memories of kindness that they can draw on as they grow. From showing gratitude to those in our immediate families on a daily basis to sharing kindness with our greater community, these easy ways to teach kids gratitude this Thanksgiving can make the season feel more meaningful in your family, too.

1. Thank the Cook at Mealtimes

This is hands down, one of my favorite parts of mealtimes. It started sort of by accident, but it’s something I would do on purpose now that I know how lovely it is. All you need to do is to have everyone at the table say something nice to the person who prepared dinner. It can be specific feedback about a dish, or a general “thanks for dinner!”. Either way, it’s a simple and incredibly effective way to make the cook feel appreciated—and even more so when it’s a big holiday meal!

2. Pause to Greet

Taking a moment to properly greet family, can make your days feel happier and the family more connected. And that time can also make us instinctively feel more grateful for one another because funny and memorable things often happen in those small moments!

3. Make Holiday Chores a Team Effort

Nothing can sink your cheer faster like feeling like you’re the only one doing anything to get ready for the holidays—so I say, don’t do it all yourself! And sure, it might take longer if the kids help, but they can learn the value of pitching in from an early age—and we can all feel a little more grateful for each other along the way.

4. Send Snail Mail

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to sit down and mail a letter or a drawing to relatives far away—especially since it’s easier to do it when the kids aren’t distracted by holiday gifts. Challenge them to share a few things that they’re grateful for, or to make artwork depicting their favorite memory with the recipient from the past year. Print and send these thoughtful (and free!) Thanksgiving cards.

5. Turn off Devices

One of the keys to being able to show gratitude—and accept it—it to be present. And that’s hard to do when your phone is constantly demanding your attention. Keep the phones in a central location away from common areas like the dinner table to open up some space for true moments of connection and gratitude to appear throughout every day.

6. Talk to Each Other During Meals

When feeding kids, mealtimes can often be fraught around the subject of picky eating. But if you take the conversation topic totally off the subject of food, you can almost always enjoy the meal more. In addition to asking the kids what they did at school or at their friend’s house, try asking them what they’re grateful for—or sharing a moment of gratitude from your own day. You might just challenge them to think in a whole new way!

7. Actually Give Back

Between food pantries, Little Free Libraries, clothing drives, food drives, and more, there are ample opportunities to give back to others in our communities around Thanksgiving. Find the options available in your area and give the kids a choice of which they’d like to participate in—whether it’s once or ongoing.

How do you teach your kids gratitude?


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