Most parents would love for their children to understand gratitude all year long, but especially during the gift-giving holidays. Some basic steps can help develop a child’s spirit of gratitude according to Janice Emery, 4-H youth development specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

“Many parents experience the dreaded gift opening moment when grandma is watching your child open her gift and the child grimaces at the new socks she bought them,” said Emery.    

Parents can try several tactics to raise grateful children.  For starters, it can be helpful to prepare your child before any gift-giving situation to be appreciative. However, according to Emery, there are three basic gratitude-building steps parents can use.

First, be a good role model.  Children are always learning from what adults around them do. Family therapists say to try lacing grateful comments into everyday expressions. For example, instead of saying, “What a long day at work” try “I had a long day at work, but I am grateful for my job so we can buy what we need.”

Emery says parents can add a new daily dinner table routine, and go around the table saying what each person is most thankful for that day.

Second, make giving and volunteering a habit in your household.  Donate toys, clothing or household items to a local Goodwill center and get your kids in on the act.

“Let them help you sort out what you will donate and make sure they donate at least one of their belongings they no longer use.  It will introduce children to the feeling of giving and get them excited that they have the ability to help others.” Emery said.

Third, make sure your child expresses the classic, “Thank You.”

“Regardless of the monetary value of the gift, kids need to learn to express in words their gratitude to the giver.  Sending thank you cards after a birthday party, or special event is never out of style,” said Emery.

It is a good idea to have the child add a personal touch to thank you cards so they can have a deeper appreciation of the effort that went into the gift.  It is good to remind children that gifts are not about material gain, but about the thoughtfulness the giver put into it.

“As parents, it is important to validate our children’s feelings while still giving them a spirit of appreciation.  Kids under the age of five are not emotionally developed enough to hide their negative feelings to protect the feelings of others,” said Emery.

When a child opens a gift and is disappointed, Emery suggests reframing the issue. For example, saying, “I know you wanted a remote control car, but just think of all the different ways you will be able to play with this toy train.”  Reframing can help defuse the situation and remind the child to appreciate what they have been given.

“Children go through many phases and developmental milestones.  It is never too late to teach gratitude.  Just because your teenager does not seem to be thankful doesn’t mean these steps will not make an impression to ensure you raise a grateful, generous adult,” said Emery.

The 4-H program instills many different life skills including gratitude through participation in community service projects.  For more information on 4-H programs in your county contact local Regional Youth Development Specialist Janice Emery, at the University of Missouri Extension in Texas County by phone at (417) 967-4545 or email at