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How to Raise Thankful Kids

One of the most important things parents will ever do is teach their children how to be kind, how to empathize, how to be grateful and how to be aware that they are part of a much larger whole. Whew. Easier said than done, though, am I right?

I practice kindness myself, was raised by a mom who really valued “nice” and am married to one of the sweetest, most generous humans I have ever met. Still, not to throw my five-year-old under a bus or anything, but despite living our values and modeling them every day, we are still working on successfully teaching kindness and gratitude in our home.

It’s a struggle.

I think before children, when you imagine what parenting will be like, there are things that you never, ever consider. Like teaching little humans about gratitude. It’s a tough concept for them to get. Some come to it naturally, some don’t.

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Living in the mom-blogger world, I’ve read articles that champion this topic from every possible angle: Raise kids with manners! Don’t require your child to say thank you if it’s not genuine! Model the behavior you want to see! If you keep reminding, they will get there!

Pfft. It’s confusing. And then I realized, well, none of these articles comes from any place of authority but was written by another mom like me. Where is the article that covers how hard it is? Where is the article that is honest about the failures on the path to gratitude? Where is the article that helps you feel better when you want to curl up in a ball of embarrassment after seeing your son throw down a gift after only half opening it when realizing it wasn’t something he wanted?

Look no further, my friends. Here it is.

What I love about this initiative was that it provides a method for raising kind kids and encouraging gratitude in our children.

Teaching gratitude is hard, yo. But it’s important. So, so important. Which means I will keep struggling until we get there. We are making progress, for sure. I see things today, shimmers and glimpses of gratitude that I didn’t see a year ago, so we will keep plugging away. And for all of you blessed with kiddos that come to this naturally, well, please exercise patience for the rest of us.

In this, the month of gratitude, Thanksgiving feels like a perfect time to shake things up a bit and try a new initiative. Recently, an article out of the Washington Post crossed my Facebook newsfeed about raising “nice” kids. The article focused on the work of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common Project.

BINGO!

What I love about this initiative was that it provides a method for raising kind kids and encouraging gratitude in our children. There are actual, concrete steps parents can take to encourage these things we want so much to see in our kids. I love that. More importantly, I need that.

Even though I found it just this morning, I’ve already talked about it with my son. Poor kid thought I was lecturing him about being unkind, which is a red flag that I haven’t been approaching the topic in the right way, given that his initial reaction was a negative and punitive one.

Anyway, enough about my parenting mistakes.

Each of the seven ”guideposts” the project encourages is divided into three separate sections – Why, How and Try This. The project articulates why something is important and how to teach it to our children. It then provides several ways to try it out. Genius!

I don’t know how this will turn out, and I fully appreciate that this suggests a much more active and consistent role on my part on a daily basis.

The one I will be starting with is gratitude, capitalizing on the time of year and, especially, as we head into Christmas and birthday (early January) season for my son. The project states, “Studies show that people who engage in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate and forgiving – and they are also more likely to be healthy and happy.”

I want that for my children. I want all of that.

So, following the recommended steps, this week we will start a daily moment of gratitude in our home. Because our son is also focused on writing skills at his school, I am also considering a “gratitude journal” for him, where he can identify one or more things that he is feeling grateful for each day.

I don’t know how this will turn out, and I fully appreciate that this suggests a much more active and consistent role on my part on a daily basis. But isn’t that what parenting is all about anyway?

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What I do know is that I want to raise kind, compassionate, grateful children. What I do know is that it takes work to do that. What I do know is that what I have been trying has not quite done the trick. What I do know is that it’s too important to shrug my shoulders anymore and hope it sinks in at some point. What I do know is that I am willing to give it a try.

Why don’t you join me? What’s the worst that can happen? More grateful children? Kind and compassionate children. Yes, please! And thank you!

Image by Sheila Quirke

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