Back To Basics: Cultivating Gratitude In Children

One of the frequent complaints I hear from parents is that their children don’t seem to appreciate things and express gratitude readily.  Parents have told me stories about how their small children just want, want, want, want and how they feel angry, sad, wondering what they did wrong because their children are never satisfied.

That is hard, and the beginning of this is to look at how you feel about the negative emotions your child expresses in general.  Does it bring up your own “stuff”?  Usually when a child does something that really bothers us, there is a reason from our own past, our own baggage, that makes this issue a hot button for us. 

How are you yourself modeling gratitude in your family?  Is there a general attitude of contentment or are you always searching for more, for bigger, for better?  Are you a complainer yourself? 

What do you do each day ACTIVELY to model gratitude?  Do you say a blessing before meals?  Do you pray and say thank you for things? Do you recount good things that you are happy about before you go to sleep?

What is your environment like?  Is it simple, with everything having a toy, or is it towering and teeming with STUFF?  How many toys does your child have?  There can be too much even if it is “natural” toys.  Try this back post for suggestions of how many clothes and how many toys and what kinds of toys your child would like at each age: 

What age is your child?  The three to six age range (if not before!) can be really, really difficult to take  to stores.  They really do not understand why you cannot afford to buy X,Y and Z and you cannot reason with them, so as much as possible I advise you to run errands alone.

Can you mirror back your child’s wishes?  “I wish that too”  “That would be fun” can be really simple small phrases to let your child know they have been heard.    Can you write down what they are asking for on a birthday or holiday list?

What stories could you tell to bring a healing element into all of this?  I love the Grimm Brother fairy tale “The Star Money”.  This is a lovely tale to tell around the holiday season.    Here is an on-line version:  This story would be appropriate for ages four to six (say most Waldorf resources, I would say ages five to six to really “get” it). 

Do you have a spiritual community that can carry doing anything charitable?  Even small children, within the context of a strong and nurturing community, can carry making shoe boxes for children who will not receive other holiday gifts, drives for the homeless and food pantry, etc.  Remember, it is not so much talking about all this, but the DOING.

What are you doing to physically wear your child out? What work does your child do?  How does your child contribute to the welfare of your home and family?  To me, children who have time to wish, wish, wish about things probably are not expending enough physical energy!  Also think in general about warmth, about the number of choices the child is being asked to make, and the rhythm of your home.

I would love to hear your suggestions below!

Many blessings,


15 thoughts on “Back To Basics: Cultivating Gratitude In Children

  1. As a part of our night time routine, as we lie down, before we start to read, each child (and myself) mentions three things for which we are grateful. It is mandatory. When my children were in the ages of nine and ten and grumpy, sometimes they said silly things like air, but they named three always. Sometimes I had to wait, but at least three would always come forth. The energy always shifts gently before they go to sleep.

  2. Interesting reading, thank you. I think it’s ok for children to want and wish as long as they are aware that they can’t have, and of course will not get, it all. My husband has a good influence on me in that he believe one gift is enough, while I tend to want to spoil – and we usually end up with a compromise 🙂
    Next weekend my toddler is going to give some good toys to charity, and I’m looking forward to do this with him.

    Lovely story! I know many of the Grimm fairy tales, but this was new to me.

  3. this topic just came up for me this weekend, and i too often am saddened by my children not naturally wanting to give to others, but it always forces me to look back at myself and very much the lack of modeling that i myself do in this area. i felt i was a very giving person before kids, but it has felt in the last two years that taking care of their needs has sapped me so much i give myself excuse to not give to anyone else. i am rethinking this. i’d love to hear also what other person’s experience is. it’s good to hear your encouragment to not take little ones shopping, mine are all three seven and under.

    what do you do about gift giving to others from little ones? that is my biggest struggle as it always ends up whatever we want to give becomes something they wanted and then they are whining about it.

    • Wow! Thank you Andrea! WIll add your link to the Spanish tab, there are a few other languages listed there…

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