It’s that time of year where we typically hear buzzwords like “thankful” and “grateful.” What exactly does the word gratitude mean? It means feeling thankful and appreciative for the positive in our lives. Did you know that expressing gratitude has mental benefits for ourselves and is appreciated by others?

When we say, “Thank you” and let others know we appreciate their words or actions, we “fill their bucket” and spread kindness. And, when I share my gratitude, I also fill my own bucket, because I feel good letting others know I appreciate what they have said or done. Cultivating gratitude is especially important – though difficult – if we have suffered a loss – of loved ones, experiences, or opportunities. Want to know something interesting about gratitude? Research-backed science shows us that practicing daily gratitude, thinking about something we are grateful for every day, helps us to feel positive and hopeful. This, in turn, helps build resilience.

Also, here’s some good news for students. Reflecting on what you are thankful for on a daily basis helps students achieve higher grades, higher goals, more satisfaction with relationships, life, and school; less materialism, and more willingness  to give back. (Source: classroom-owen-griffith).

At Social Bridges, both in our skill building groups and school curriculum, we focus on teaching and practicing gratitude as part of positive self-talk. We teach our group members that although we are not able to control everything around us, we are in control of our attitude and our response. Experts recommend making it a habit to pause each day and note and appreciate the good in life. Doing this shifts our focus onto what we do have, not what we lack. This increases our self-esteem, boosts our mood, and helps us appreciate unique aspects of our life.

Read on for some tips for cultivating gratitude with your families.

Ages and Stages of Gratitude

With younger children, it is easiest to start with modeling and sharing concrete physical things to be grateful for. Examples include food, shelter, pets, friends, family members, for extra-curriculars –  like sports, music, or drama.

Upper elementary and middle school kids can add-on by expressing gratitude for the intangible; the things we cannot see or cannot buy. Examples include being grateful for personal strengths and attributes, family values, personality traits, etc.

Here are some conversation prompts generate meaningful discussion during your daily gratitude practice:

  • I am grateful for a strength or attribute I cannot see such as ….
  • Something that comforts me that I am grateful for is –
  • Something that money cannot buy, that I am grateful for…
  • What’s the best thing about your home, and have you taken the time to enjoy it recently?
  • Have you had a chance to help someone recently, and how did that make you feel?
  • What’s something you look forward to in the future?

Looking for a more interactive way to practice gratitude? Try one of these games or crafty activities:

Gratitude Pick-up Sticks

Materials: One game of pick-up sticks


  1. Each player has a turn picking up a stick. If the player is successful in picking up the stick without moving others, they share something that are grateful for/appreciate, according to the color key below.
  2. Rules of the game are reviewed
  3. The sticks are held in one player’s fist and released.
  4. Each player has a turn trying to remove a stick without moving an of the other sticks.
  5. When a player is successful, they share something they are thankful for, according of their color of their stick (see key below).

Color Key (Should be adjusted to match the color of the sticks)

  • Red – Person in your life you are thankful for
  • Orange – a place in your life you are thankful for
  • Green – an experience in your life you are thankful for
  • Blue – a friend in your life you are thankful for
  • Purple – anything in your life you are thankful for

Create a Family Gratitude Jar

  1. Use a clean recycle jar with a lid.
  2. Decorate with paint or tissue paper and glue water.
  3. Add post it notes or place notes in the jar each day.

Gratitude Wreath or Thankful Tree

  1. Buy supplies from a dollar store near you – Styrofoam circle, white glue,  cut out or purchase colored leaves, permanent marker.
  2. Each family member writes something they are grateful for and glue to the wreath or tree – this can be done daily, weekly or when the mood strikes you.
  3. Free Gratitude Tree Template – Click Here
  4. Less crafty families can buy a ready- made tree from Target Click Here

Appreciation Post-It Notes

Create a “post-it place” (e.g. poster board or large empty picture frame) where family members can acknowledge appreciation for one another, one post-it note at a time. Younger children can draw pictures versus writing words.

Gratitude Journal

Before you go to sleep, pause to think about what was good in your day. Write down an everyday blessing you’ve noticed that you used to take for granted. For example, electricity that keeps the lights on; fresh, clean running   water; or powerful arm muscles that help you play your sport.

Gratitude Meditation Scripts 

This link provides scripts to lead children, teens or parents through 10 various narratives to practice gratitude.

Written by Carol Miller, LCSW

Edited by Danielle Bentz, MA

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash