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  • Dr. Lillian Nejad

Give the Gift of Gratitude

How to cultivate a grateful mindset in your children during the holidays.

It's hard not to get caught up in the commercialism of the holiday season. You end up spending loads of time and money on presents your kids don’t need to make sure they have the "best Christmas ever". They open their gifts in a manic frenzy and then, the next thing you know, it’s all over. Are they grateful? Yes, but not for long! How do we get our kids to stay grateful? Or better yet, how do we cultivate a grateful mindset in our children without having to give them something first?

Why are these important questions? 

Well, it turns out, gratitude is an important component to a physically, emotionally and socially healthy and satisfying life! More specifically, research has shown that a grateful mindset in both adults and children increases happiness, life satisfaction, and resilience, improves sleep and overall health, and reduces anxiety and depression.

According to the one of the leading experts on gratitude, Robert Emmons, there are two components:

  • Recognising the good in our lives, and

  • Attributing it to a source outside ourselves (a family member, friend, stranger, organization, company, TV show, the universe)

So this holiday season, give your kids the gift of gratitude with these simple strategies:

1—Teach Them Different Ways to Express Thanks

The tradition of the thank you note is practically extinct; you’re lucky to get a thank you text these days. But the practice of thanking people is an essential component of gratitude. You don’t have to go down the Martha Stewart pathway; there are all kinds of ways to give thanks: saying ‘thank you’, thank you post-its, thank you emails, thank you videos, thank you stickers, thank you hugs, thank you songs, thank you phonecalls, thank you gifts, thank you help—see if your kids can come up with some new and creative ways to thank others.

2—Have Daily Gratitude Conversations

When you talk to your kids, ask questions that lead to a grateful perspective.  You can do this directly by making it part of a daily ritual, for example, during a family meal, ask everyone to name one thing that they were grateful for that day. You can also take a more subtle approach by asking your kids what the best part of their day was in casual conversation. You can also model a grateful mindset by telling them what or who you were thankful for that day. Whichever methods you choose, here are some tips to make it most effective: make sure you and your children choose something or someone different every day, remember the simple things (a song, the weather, a smile), use humor as this will make your conversations more memorable!

3—Secret Santa

Teach your kids to be Secret Santa all year around! Random acts of kindness boost your mood, make you feel more connected to others, and can be really fun! Challenge your kids to do one nice thing for someone everyday. They can be as simple or creative as they want: give a compliment, write a nice note, donate a book, comfort someone, give up your place in line for someone, offer to help someone at school or at home, give someone a flower. Keep it fresh by encouraging them to do something different everyday. Remember to model kindness for your kids—not only is observing one of the most powerful ways that children learn, research has also shown that observing kindness has the same benefits as giving and receiving kindness on physical and emotional health! Go to or for more kindness ideas.

4—Create a Family Gratitude Archive

The New Year is a great time to start new traditions—especially one that will improve the health and well-being for the whole family! First, find a nice container, like a gift box, and buy different color notecards for each family member. Anytime someone feels grateful for something or someone, they write it down on their notecard and put in the box.  After a period of time, the family reads all the notecards together. You can decide whether you want to do this weekly, monthly, yearly or perhaps as part of other holidays like Valentine’s Day, Birthdays, Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve. 

5—Give back

It’s easy to get frustrated by your children’s demands and lack of appreciation. We often find ourselves saying things like: “You should be more grateful!” “You don’t know how lucky you are!” “Other kids don’t have anything”…  But comparisons are rarely an effective strategy to motivate a change in attitude, can leave kids feeling guilty or anxious rather than fostering appreciation and altruism. Instead, show them how they can make a difference in others’ lives through thoughtful and generous acts like: actively participating in fund-raising for charities like for kids and Thomas fun runs,, by helping to wrap presents to put under giving trees at school, or by having a special piggy bank that is donated to a charity of your children’s choosing.  It’s one thing to say, ‘you should be more grateful’ and it’s another to show them how.  It is through giving back that they will truly understand how fortunate they are.

And a final thought-apply all these strategies to yourself! Show your kids by your actions, not just by your words, how gratitude enriches your life.

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season!

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