Debbie Granick is a parent/childbirth educator and freelance writer. She received a Masters in Social Work and a Masters in Public Health, specializing in Maternal and Child Health, from the University of North Carolina. Her previous work includes counseling adolescents and their families in a substance abuse prevention program, teaching tobacco education and reproductive health in a school setting, and consulting with local child care staff on toddler discipline strategies.

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Tips for Teaching Gratitude

Dear Debbie,

How do I teach my children gratitude? Hours after opening a holiday gift, my daughter announced, “I wish I’d gotten the Lion webkinz instead of this one. Can we get more?”

— Spoiled in the Midwest

Dear Spoiled,

We spend a lot of time making our children the center of the universe. We cook for them, do their laundry, take them hither and yon. And then we are SHOCKED that they act like the center of the universe. How dare they!

Though it’s tempting to drop our indulged children in an impoverished neighborhood, just to show them how good they have it. It’s not a practical solution.

A better way is to make gratitude part of your family’s routine. Here are a few ideas to get you started.


  • Thank people. A lot. Thank mom or dad for cooking; thank a farmer for growing food; thank God for a mouth to eat with; thank the mail carrier and the store clerk. Thank the janitor for making the halls so shiny. Thank your kids for helping out. Your children will learn from your example.
  • Acknowledge good fortune. Try: “Let’s be glad we have TV to watch on this cold rainy day.” “Thank goodness for electricity, we can whip up hot chocolate in no time.” “You’re lucky to have an extra pair of shoes. These are soaked!”
  • Write gratitude notes. Decorate a “gratitude jar” in which kids put their “I’m grateful for…” notes every week. Read them at a family meal. Or do a round of “I’m grateful for…” at dinner. Everyone gets to say “thanks” for something in their day.
  • Value the generosity of others. Find buildings with names on them, e.g., “The Smith Family Gym” or “The Goldman Family Library.” Talk about how the donor’s generosity affects your child. Ask: “Why do you think this family donated money to your school?” “How can we show appreciation for their gift?”
  • Use the calendar to remind you to live generously. Make donations or do good deeds on birthdays. Bring flowers to a cemetery on Veterans Day. Visit a social justice organization on Martin Luther King’s birthday. Bring cold drinks to laborers in honor of Labor Day. Write thank-you notes to teachers on Thanksgiving.

    Thanks to Vicki Platke in Saint Louis, MO., for the “gratitude jar” idea!



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