November 23, 2022

4 Ways to Teach Your 3-5 year old Gratitude

There are many opportunities to model and teach gratitude and generosity to our children this season and year-round. Children are learning from their parents how to be moral people and this blog will share simple activities that will compound their generosity over time and build godly character.

Lorena Vidaurre, Ph.D.
Lorena Vidaurre, Ph.D.
Zoomed-in shot of a heart-shaped metal lock hanging on a fence outside, blurred background
As the season of Thanksgiving is upon us, everyone is reflecting on what they are grateful for. There are many opportunities to show gratefulness and giving this season. 

Say please and thank you” or “What do you say?”

We all know these common phrases and automatically say them to our children once they start talking. But have you explained to your child why we say it?

Children from ages 2-3 can say thank you for toys and family members. 

Children from ages 4-5 can understand that gratitude can also be for behaviors, love, and kind acts. 

What is gratitude? The dictionary states the quality of being thankful is; the readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. In simple terms, it means noticing what's good in our world and being thankful for it. 

Children, who know nothing else about the world, don’t know that everyone may not have a home, everyday meals, family, or be able to buy new clothes.

Why is it important to give thanks? 

Scripture is filled with passages guiding us to give thanks. 

Psalm 100: 4-5 reads, “Give thanks TO GOD, bless His name. For the Lord is GOOD. His loving kindness is everlasting…” 

As the season of Thanksgiving is upon us, everyone is reflecting on what they are grateful for. There are many opportunities to show gratitude and generosity this season but in addition to a season, we can model and teach gratitude to our children year-round. 

Hi, I’m Dr. Vidaurre and as a mother, grandmother, and an educational expert for over twenty-five years, I’d like to share with you some of my recommendations on how to help your preschooler thrive at home.

How to Raise a Grateful Child

A women and child are on the floor in a playroom talking to each other surrounded by toys.

Model It

One of the ways that we can teach our children an attitude of gratitude is to model it. Children are always observing their parents and their actions. So let us be mindful of this and model gratitude for positive actions and behaviors as often as possible.

As parents, we may say an automatic thank you when we receive a drawing from our child and put it on the fridge. Next time try, “I see you took the time to draw me a picture, that tells me that you wanted to do something nice for your mom. I am so thankful to have such a kind daughter.”   

All it takes is a few more moments to model gratitude every day. Here are some other examples in kid-friendly language:

  • “Thank you for asking me permission to go in the backyard to play, I would have been worried if I didn’t know where you were at.”
  • “I’m thankful that the person held the door for us at the store, wasn’t that a kind gesture.”
  • “I’m thankful for my family because you all bring me so much joy and love.”
  • Morning gratitude- “I’m thankful for all my 5 senses; sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. We are blessed with these gifts and every day I like to say thank you to God.”

Once children hear the reason behind the gratitude they will understand that it’s not just an automatic response but a genuine reflection of being thankful.

Verbalize Thoughts of Gratitude 

A crouched women whispers into her daughters ear on a sidewalk in front of a fray building.

It’s easy to smile and say “thanks” even in your own family without much thought. In addition to modeling saying thank you for everyday blessings, it is also important to talk about it with your preschooler. Think about why you are saying thank you. When children start to hear your reasons they’ll listen and maybe start to ask comprehension questions. 

  • “Dad saw how tired I was from work so he decided it was his turn to cook dinner. I am thankful for his thoughtfulness, it makes me feel loved and appreciated.” 
  • “When I see you and your brother pick up your toys without being asked to, it makes me feel thankful that I have two children who understand responsibility. Thank you”

Any moment can be a teachable moment for your  young child. Anytime you have a grateful thought, verbalize it for your children to hear. This is also a helpful activity to build their vocabulary.

Activities to Practice Gratitude with your child

Simple age-appropriate activities to practice gratitude don’t have to be complicated or time-consuming.

Here are some things you can do at home right now.

Thank You cards 

A child's hand is holding a crayon and drawing, a glass full of crayons is next to the hand.

You’ll need index cards and crayons and have children draw what they are thankful for or write the words Thank You. This activity incorporates art and fine motor skills in writing. 

Bible Passages

There are several stories in the bible that mention being thankful. Here are 3 stories to share with your child.

  • Jesus heals 10 lepers, Luke 17:12-19. Only 1 of the 10 thanked Jesus, Jesus was disappointed that the other nine did not return to give praise to God for their healing. This passage  reminds us to always give thanks. 
  • Paul’s Thanksgiving for His Friends, Ephesians 1:15-19. Paul thanks God but also gives thanks for his friends. In other words, “encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
  • The Psalms of David, Psalm 100:1-5. David gave thanks to God in all phases of his life, in good times and bad times. 

Discuss the importance of giving thanks to God. Discuss examples in your life and your child’s life for which you are thankful to God. If you haven’t already done so, share with your children your favorite passages about giving thanks and why it’s meaningful to you.


Yellow bookcover with a Panda illustration on it. Title reads: Thank you, Mr. Panda. Gracias, Sr. Panda

Read books to your child on being thankful, for example: Thank You, Mr. Panda, Gracias Sr. Panda. Talk about the story as you read. Listen to their ideas and questions. 

A Gratitude Tree 

Paper tree with fall colored leaves posted on a wall

 A simple version is to get construction paper and tape. Cut paper to resemble a tree and tape it on the wall then cut paper leaves and help your child write or draw what they are grateful for. For a more hands-on activity,  get twigs from outside and place them inside a vase filled with pebbles, sand, or rice and hang paper leaves from them. This can be an ongoing activity throughout the holiday season.

Say It

Mom and son are talking while casually lying on a bed.

Practice saying thank you to members of the community. Practice with your child beforehand. It can be thanksgiving to members of the church who help like the ushers or neighbors who help in any way. If your child has a neighborhood friend they can say this, “ Thank you for sharing your toys with me. I like that we can play with them together. It makes me happy.” 


cropped image of open cardboard box with food donations overflowing. Volunteers are standing in the background.

Feeling grateful and blessed makes us feel good but so does giving. Demonstrate that giving is also a branch of being grateful. Thanks and giving go hand in hand.

“I am so grateful that I can buy new clothes when I know there are families out there who can’t so I choose to donate clothes that you grow out of and buy new items for babies in need.” Try not to compare to less fortunate families because it will cause guilt instead.

Explain how being blessed makes you want to help others and show God’s love through kind acts.

When your children see you want to help within the community, they will start to ask questions about it which can lead to great conversations about generosity in the community.

Nurturing age-appropriate activities that inspire gratitude and generosity will stay with them their whole lives. During the holiday season, there are countless ways to give back. Many schools, churches, and nonprofits announce how help is needed

  • Food drives 
  • Clothing drives
  • Driving to deliver food boxes
  • Dropping off wrapped gifts to families in need
  • Volunteering at soup kitchens or shelters 
  • Community Clean-up days at parks

Children will realize they can give back anytime. Maybe they see a kid who wants to play with a ball and your child decides to give an extra ball or the only ball he has. Even picking up litter on the streets can be a way to give back to the community.

Studies show that focusing on gratitude can bring more joy, strengthen relationships and cause less stress in people’s lives. 

“The generous will themselves be blessed.” Proverbs 22:9

Put these steps into action and enjoy living an attitude of gratitude with your children. 

Children are learning from their parents on how to be moral people and these simple steps will compound their generosity over time and build godly character. 

Share this on social media and Tag us in pictures of how your family is showing gratitude this season.