How to start a gratitude journal for children
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What if there was a way to build your child’s resilience, improve their self esteem, help them build important social skills, nurture and encourage positive emotions, help them feel happier and protect their mental and physical health, all in just 10 minutes per day? Would you do it?
You’re nodding right?! Of course you are. You’d be crazy not to.
So here’s the good news. You can do all of that: with gratitude.
In fact, studies show that expressing gratitude for the people and things in our lives can leave us feeling happy for up to one month afterwards. I’ve written about the importance of gratitude for children, and its benefits before. So if you’re after some general tips for encouraging gratitude in your child, you can find some here.
But as parents, we can help our kids learn to notice and express thanks for the positive things in their lives and build skills that will last a lifetime, in just a few minutes a day. By helping them start a gratitude journal.
A gratitude journal for children is a simple and effective way to build resilience and give kids important coping skills. Plus, journaling is a great opportunity to improve writing skills in young kids, too! Here are 6 simple tips to help you get started.
6 tips to start a gratitude journal for children
1. Start with a story
Gratitude can be a bit of a tricky concept for young children to grasp. But books are a fantastic way to introduce kids to complex ideas. Stories and narratives help children make sense of the world and give them a relational framework for understanding and interacting with it. Here are three of our favourite kids books about gratitude:
Gratitude Soup: This book features Violet the Purple Fairy, who learns how to make Gratitude Soup by thinking of all the things, people, places, and experiences that she is grateful for and putting them in an imaginary soup pot. She is then able to shrink her pot of soup with her imagination, so she can keep the gratitude warm and flowing in her heart all day and all night. This is a fun and playful story that is sure to engage your little people – just be prepared for them to make their own gratitude soup!
Thankful: This is a fun and slightly silly rhyming board book with illustrations your kids will love! It speaks to the importance of being thankful for the everyday things – like the gardener thankful for every green sprout, and the chef who is grateful for plates licked clean! Children are encouraged to be thankful for the many blessings they find in their lives each and every day.
All the World: This beautiful books follows a group of family and friends through a fun day of shared adventures and activities. The day isn’t perfect, but there is still so much beauty in the small moments and memories they create together. This book is a lovely reminder of how important it is to appreciate the little things in life and the people who love us.
2. Select an age appropriate gratitude journal
Help your child select a gratitude journal that they will enjoy using every day! A gratitude journal for children needs to be both functional and fun. I like journals that have space for both writing and drawing, so kids have lots of space for creative expression. We have a great range of printable and hard copy gratitude journals for children available in the Mindful Little Minds Marketplace. You can browse our collection of gratitude products here.
3. Make it fun!
Gratitude journaling for kids doesn’t have to look the same as it does for us grown ups! We might be happy to jot down our thoughts, or make a list with a few bullet points. But this may not be particularly appealing to your child. And that’s ok!
In fact, gratitude journaling doesn’t have to be ‘journaling” at all. Why not try writing some gratitude prompts down and popping them in a jar? Then take turns pulling out a new one at the dinner table each night and having a gratitude discussion. Or maybe you could go on a gratitude scavenger hunt, make a gratitude tree, or draw a picture of what you are grateful for? There are so many different ways to have fun with gratitude!
In fact, I’ve included a ton of fun gratitude activities in My Gratitude Workbook. This is a printable activity book full of fun kids gratitude activities you can do together with your child. And it will actually get them excited to practice gratitude!
4. Give them prompts
Like I said earlier, gratitude can be a tricky concept for kids. And sometimes when we ask, “What are you grateful for today?”, we might be met with blank stares and confused little faces.
But if we ask, “What made you feel happy today?”. That’s a question they can answer! Need more ideas? Here are some prompts you might like to try with your younger child to get them thinking (and talking) about gratitude.
- What was the best part of your day today?
- What made you laugh today?
- What did you have fun playing with today?
- What yummy food did you eat today?
- What was something beautiful you saw today?
- Who did something kind for you today?
- Who made you feel loved today?
- What is your favourite toy?
- Which friend did you play with at school today?
- What is your favourite place to visit?
- What activity are you glad you got to do today?
5. Journal together
You can encourage and set a positive example for your child by doing some gratitude journaling alongside them. If you work your daily journaling into your regular routine, it will become second nature. So set aside some time each day, perhaps after dinner or at bedtime, to sit together and journal. When you’re done, talk to each other about what you feel grateful for, and why. This will help with your child’s gratitude practice, but it will also be a special time for you to connect with each other. And I have no doubt that it will become a time both of you cherish and look forward to every day. Plus – of course – the benefits of gratitude are not limited to children! If you need a gratitude journal for yourself, I love these ones from Awesome Inc.
6. Let go of expectations
Sometimes your child won’t want to express gratitude and that’s ok. We don’t always feel like expressing our gratitude either, right?! If they don’t feel like journalling, don’t push it. Gratitude journaling shouldn’t be a chore. It’s not something we want to force kids to do. It’s something we want kids to do willingly and joyfully. So if they need a break, that’s ok.
Also try to remember that what your child feels grateful for is likely to be different to what you are grateful for. They won’t always give you answers you expect. Sometimes they’ll be grateful for the pancakes you cooked them for breakfast, their family, and having access to fresh running water and shelter. And sometimes they’ll be grateful for PJ masks, lollipops, Peyton List, and getting the biggest serving of ice cream after dinner. No one thing is more deserving of our gratitude than another. It’s about what feels meaningful for them. So try to let go of your expectations around what your child “should” be grateful for, and just be grateful that they’re feeling grateful!
Sarah is a psychologist, mama of 4 and the creator of Mindful Little Minds. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, adolescents and families experiencing mental health problems and has a special interest in anxiety disorders in children. In her spare time she enjoys hugging her kids, drinking coffee, and telling anyone who’ll listen how tired she is.