Instilling Gratitude in Children

Child and Family Mental Health is proud to present a beautiful guest post written by the local social worker, play therapist, and professor Ms. Sheri Mitschelen, LCSW, RPT/S, on instilling gratitude in children as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday.  Please see the bottom of this post for more information about Sheri.

With Thanksgiving approaching this month it’s a time to spend with family and think about the things we are thankful and grateful for.


A 2012 study published in the industry journal Personality and Individual Differences found. and that gratitude was one of the biggest predictors of life satisfaction, no matter what demographic.

A sense of gratitude is an essential ingredient in a happy life, but it does not come naturally to children…

Five ways you can work to instill Gratitude in your children:

1.  MODEL IT YOURSELF–Make sure to share the things you are grateful for in your every day conversation.  Saying to your child, “”I’m so thankful to have your help”, “I’m thankful for the beautiful trees.”  Children model their parents in every way, so make sure you use “please” and “thank you” when you talk to them. (“Thanks for that hug — it made me feel great!”) Insist on their using the words, too. After all, “good manners and gratitude gratitude2overlap,” says New York City etiquette consultant Melissa Leonard.

2. INTRODUCE GRATITUDE AS A GAME- Christopher Smith recommends focusing on small things by playing a game where each person shares something that they are grateful for. You can play this game while in the car by naming things that you see; you can play this game sitting in a waiting room by naming things that start with different letters of the alphabet. By making it a game, you are allowing your children to learn about all the things they can be grateful for while not making it too serious.

3.  WRITE GRATITUDE LETTERSThis is a version of the thank you note. You can leave notes for your children saying the things you are grateful for about them. You can also teach your kids to think about writing a letter to somebody like a teacher or a family member who has done something for them. This teaches them that it is not just about when somebody gives you something material but when somebody really does something for you. Help your child write the letter – you can dictate for them if they’re younger. Or write or type on a card, Dear: _________   I’m thankful for____________ and their name.  It does not need to be a long letter.  People appreciate just being acknowledged and the thought.

A leading researcher in this field, Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of various positive psychology interventions on 411 people, each compared with a control assignment of writing about early memories. When their week’s assignment was to write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness, participants immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than that from any other intervention, with benefits lasting for a month

4. ENCOURAGE GENEROSITY-Generosity is the desire to give what you have to others. You can do this by donating food or used clothing and toys to a local food bank or Homeless Shelter.  You can also encourage your child to share their toy or a piece of food with a friend or sibling

A book that discusses generous behavior is: The Bernstein Bears and the Joy of Giving


5.  VOLUNTEER- Volunteering with children is a great way to teach them to give back to others.  An additional benefit of volunteering with your child is the bonding that occurs. If your child is interested in a subject it may be possible to use that subject as a springboard into volunteering: Children who construct a lot of forts or buildings with blocks may enjoy helping out a construction organization such as Habitat for Humanity; and children who love animals my enjoy helping animal organizations such as the Humane Society.   If you can’t commit to doing something outside the house as a family, figure out some way your child can actively participate in helping someone else.  Even if it’s as simple as making cookies for a sick neighbor. For more information go to

A fun Fall family activity that can teach gratitude is cutting out colorful leaves and having your children write on the leaf what they are grateful for.


Enjoy this season of change and the beauty of the colorful leaves while remembering to practice gratitude.

At Crossroads Family Counseling Center we are thankful for our co-workers and grateful for the opportunity to work with the children and families that we serve. Happy Thanksgiving!

Written by:  Sheri Mitschelen, LCSW, RPT/S, 


Owner and Director of Crossroads Family Counseling Center, LLC a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in the State of Virginia and a Registered Play Therapy-Supervisor (RPT-S). She has 25 years of experience working with children, adolescents and families.  She is also an Adjunct professor at George Mason University and Catholic University of America in the School of Social Work.

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