Being thankful and showing gratefulness doesn’t come naturally to children. Kids are used to receiving attention and material things. But the Thanksgiving holiday season is a good time to try to teach them gratitude. It will help them become more compassionate and kind. They’ll also become less likely to struggle with mental health disorders, like depression, and more general health problems, such as headaches. So what can parents do to teach thankfulness?

Set a good example

It’s tough to ask children to be grateful, if their biggest role models do not live by the same principles. As a parent, you may have to ask yourself how often you say “thank you” to others, or whether you’re good at telling people what makes you happy. 

“Kids learn a lot simply by watching their parents,” says Dr. Bhawani Ballamudi, a Psychiatrist with SSM Health Dean Medical Group. “If you are appreciative of the things around you and thankful for the things you have in your life, your children are more likely to have similar feelings.”

Emphasize the “little things” in life

If you need proof that these things matter, look no farther than the old fashioned thank-you note. You feel good when you receive one, but may feel even better when you send one. These feelings apply to people young and old, so it’s never too early to include children in activities that will have a positive impact on other people.

Recognizing the “little things” can also be an effective tool for self-reflection. 

“If you talk with your kids daily about 2-3 things that made them happy that particular day, odds are they’ll be more focused on the positive things in life,” says Dr. Ballamudi. “A tradition like this won’t take up much time, but helps kids understand all of the good things they have.”

Provided by SSM Health

Involve children in volunteer opportunities

There are all sorts of food, clothing and toy drives during this time of year. If you’re thinking of taking part, don’t forget the kids. They can pick out some toys or clothes that they’re willing to part with, and donate them to someone in need.

“This teaches the lesson that everyone faces different struggles in life, and some people are more fortunate than others,” adds Dr. Ballamudi. “A child may become more humble when he or she realizes that giving up something small can make a big difference in someone else’s life.”