1. Create a thank-you. When your young kids receive gifts, they should be expected to create and send a thank-you picture or short note within one day (or at the rate of one or two thank-you’s per day).
2. Be polite to Mr. Bear. Role-play using good manners and saying “thank you” using stuffed animals and action figures.
3. Pick your top 3. At dinner or bedtime, take turns sharing the three best things about your day.
4. Commit it to memory. Find and memorize thank-you prayers, songs or poems.
5. Make a different kind of gift list. Write down the things (preferably handmade) your preschoolers would like to give friends and family as holiday gifts.
The Elementary Years
In the elementary years, help your kids reach out to others in meaningful ways. They’re old enough to make a real difference, even if it’s a small one. Not only will they feel good about what they can do, but helping others will foster a sense of appreciation for the people, experiences and things they value in their own lives. Keep up the previous list, plus encourage your kids to:
1. Hand-write thank-you’s. One sentence per grade is a good rule of thumb, and be sure to send them out promptly.
2. Make a gratitude jar. Fill it with short handwritten notes of gratitude (“I’m thankful we won the big game!” or, “I’m grateful Grandma came to visit.”). Pick a special time to pull out notes at random and read them aloud.
3. Say thank-you with cookies. Prepare and deliver a homemade "thank you" to your local fire or police department, or your pediatrician’s or dentist’s office.
4. Make it stick. Leave sticky notes for each family member to thank them for something you appreciate.
5. Celebrate your year. Every birthday, make a list of things you are grateful for that year. A 5-year-old can think of five things, while a 10-year-old can manage at least 10.
The Middle School Years
As kids embark on their early teens, it’s time to help them appreciate how good they have it. These years are also a good time to encourage generosity, and help kids learn when and how to go above and beyond as they reach out to others. Keep up the previous lists, plus encourage your kids to:
1. Get it on video. Make a thank-you video for someone who gave you a gift or showed you a kindness. Saying thank you is always important, but it’s OK to think beyond the note.
2. Make a plan. Research a service project, and make a plan to execute it. Invite others to join in.
3. Create a gratitude photo book. Using a smart phones (or a plain old camera, or magazines), gather photos of the things you’re thankful for.
4. Help out without being asked. Make it a goal to do so once a day — and for any member of the family.
5. Give a gift card. Save up money to purchase a gift card (grocery store, gas card, etc.) for a person in need.
The High School Years
By this time, kid need to learn how to “own” their gratitude. With their growing need for independence, they’ll enjoy showing their appreciation and making a difference on their own terms. Happiness expert and author Christine Carter, PhD, suggests teens focus on altruism — helping others and practicing kindness — rather than simply on gratitude. She states, “Helping others evokes feelings of gratitude, compassion, and confidence in people of any age.”Keep up the previous list, plus encourage your kids to:
1. Thank a teacher or coach. Send a handwritten note to let him know how much his efforts make a difference.
2. Volunteer a Saturday. Think food pantry or animal shelter, and try to make it a regular commitment.
3. Go back to school. Donate your time to your old elementary or middle school and let your former teachers and coaches know how much they helped you.
4. Create a new family gratitude ritual. Make it something you can continue when you’re on your own.
5. Pay it forward in the drive-thru lane. Use your own money to pay for someone else’s meal.
Some great suggetions from Amy McCready from the Today Show.