Gratitude activities and specific ways to teach gratitude is an important part of child development. But gratitude can be a complex and abstract topic for kids. Sometimes, putting together a few hands-on activities can be a helpful way to show children how to express gratitude for the people, things, and places in their lives that they are thankful for. There’s more; Gratitude is an early social-emotional skill that fosters children’s social emotional learning as well as a core skill that relates to successes and relationship skills later in life. Use the gratitude ideas described here to help children build this essential soft skill while targeting motor development, making activities for gratitude development fun and functional.
These gratitude games, activities, and hands-on play ideas help children foster this soft skill.
I’ve tried to pull together several activities and ideas that help children understand thankfulness and see that feeling in action through play and activities.
You’ll find book-related thankfulness activities, gratitude games, thankfulness crafts, and other gratefulness activities to teach gratitude to children and even adults.
You’ll find a teaching gratitude therapy slide deck that occupational therapists and other child professionals can use in teletherapy to teach this skill, while targeting other areas like fine motor skills, gross motor, mindfulness, and even handwriting.
There’s more to it, though. Helping children foster gratitude helps them later in life.
Gratitude Activities Foster Social Emotional Learning
I mentioned in the first paragraph, the significance of teaching gratitude to children. This soft skill is a powerful one to start early with toddlers and preschoolers. But, teaching the ability to be self-aware, and cognizant of one’s well-being, even in difficult times is a powerful instrument in fostering grit and resilience.
More so, teaching gratitude to children allows them to build essential roadmaps to social emotional learning and prepares them for successes later in their life.
Social and emotional skills are founded on self-awareness, emotions, and the connection between the emotions, thoughts, actions that we see in children. The ability for children to manage their behaviors, thoughts, and actions (or behaviors) rests in perspective, impulse control, and self-awareness.
When children can connect the dots between other people’s perspectives and having empathy for others, they are able to maintain and build relationships. And, when children are in that mindset of being mindful of others and how their own actions, thoughts, behaviors, and actions impact others, social emotional awareness takes place. That ability to make responsible decisions about their choices can flourish when a child is grateful for what the have and their ownership in any given situation.
Gratitude leads to self-awareness, perspective of others, kindness, and empathy.
For children, having and expressing gratitude helps them to recognize the tools they have already as a way to be resilient against obstacles and challenges. When kids are aware of the things they have, the special skills they posses, or people they have in their corner, they can use those things so they are empowered, and not overwhelmed.
These are big concepts and deep connections for children!
Many adults struggle with these very same concepts. But, to say that these ideas are too deep or advanced for children doesn’t mean that we can’t work on gratitude as a building block for social emotional awareness and development. Instead, we can provide gratitude activities that help children build and establish these skills.
Research tells us that positive emotions, including gratitude, promote happiness and flourishing, creating an upward spiral (Fredrickson, 2009, Seligman, 2011). This upward spiral is a tool in a child (or adult’s) toolbox for learning, development, interaction with others, and day to day success.
Gratitude Activities for Children
So, how can we foster this appreciation for the world around us? Below, you’ll find gratitude activities and gratefulness activities to help children become genuinely more thankful for people, things, and their own self-awareness.
Discuss thankfulness- Talk with children about the things, people, situations, and skills they have available to them which are things to be thankful for. Expressing gratitude for the smallest gifts that we have in our lives, of any kind, helps children communicate and establish gratitude. Try this gratitude craft to help children count their blessings and to create a physical reminder of all that they have to be thankful for.
Model gratitude- Parents can express their gratitude and be a visible example to children so they can be thankful in any given situation, even when things seem difficult or challenging. Parental examples of thankfulness despite challenging situations is a powerful reinforcement that allows children to learn gratitude by “seeing” and “doing” as they learn to use the skills and “tools” they have available to them. In this way, kids learn in the moment and see gratitude in action. This can be shown in many ways:
- Parents can tackle difficult situations with positivity.
- By saying thank you to others, kids see an example of gratitude in action.
- Say things like, “I’m so grateful for…”
- Put a positive spin on difficult situations as an example of a positive mindset: “this is hard, but I am thankful I can…”
Express gratitude on a daily basis- Being consistent with thankfulness can help children learn this abstract concepts in very concrete ways. These gratitude printable worksheets and activities can be part of a daily gratitude exercise, as a family.
Incorporate books- This Bear Says Thanks activity helps children to see gratitude in action in a childhood book and then pair the book with a fine motor activity that allows them to count their blessings.
Make gratitude part of the home- Make a gratitude tree as a way to express family gratitude. The daily reminder will become part of the home and is a reminder of all the things in life that there are to be thankful for.
Teach gratitude- Helping kids to understand what gratitude means and looks like can involve the whole body. This teaching gratitude slide deck targets fine and gross motor skills, mindfulness, and even handwriting.
Journal gratitude- We know that writing down the things that we are thankful for promotes a better mindset and overall wellbeing. Keeping a daily journal with children can be a way wot foster the positive impact of daily gratitude. Ask children to write down just one or two things each day that they are thankful for. What would you add to that list for today?
The Impulse Control Journal is a child-friendly way to write down gratitude and to use that journaling to foster mindset and self-awareness through quick checklists where kids can write out their strengths, qualities, supports, and insights.
- Fredrickson B.L. Crown; New York: 2009. Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace The Hidden Strength Of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, And Thrive. [Google Scholar]
Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.