Perhaps the easiest way to begin with very young children is to insist they use the words “please” and “thank you” consistently. Those were actually some of my daughter’s first words (after “Hi!” and “Dada” of course!). Part of gratitude is getting in the habit of thanking everyone for everything. I think there must be something about saying the word frequently. Said often enough, it does eventually seep into your consciousness. Something in your brain clicks as you complain about something minor after thanking five people for their help and thoughtfulness.
As much as it makes most of us groan and moan, I also think thank you notes should be a requirement. Even before our daughter could write well, she had those thank you notes where she could check things and sign her name. I have to say at twelve years old, her thank you notes are more thoughtful and better written than mine. I usually give her ample time to complete them, but I encourage her to write one or two a day. Otherwise she can get overwhelmed and they never get written. Both sides of our family are very strict and require notes even for presents opened in person. I have mixed feelings about that, but the exercise is good for gratitude and writing skills.
Honestly though, I think exposure to other people who are less fortunate than us opens more hearts than any lecture or rule ever could. Take your child to volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. We go to Mexico and volunteer at a children’s home. It’s harder to complain about not getting the latest gadget when you know children whose parents have hurt and abandoned them or seen families living in cars or cardboard huts.
Of course, as with everything, your example will set the tone. Sometimes we complain and are ungrateful without even being aware of it. Over the years it has become a habit. Listen to yourself for a few days. Do you complain more than you thank? Are you always whining about some luxury you can’t afford? Do you expect everyone to “jump” to fulfill your wishes without thanking them? Children really are sponges and will mimic what they see and hear from the people they admire the most.
If all else fails, keep a gratitude journal. Every night before bed or at dinner time, have everyone list something they are grateful for that day. Encourage variety and see how long the list is at the end of the week or month. I really do believe God blesses us with a “cup tamped down and overflowing”. Sometimes we are just too distracted to see it! Let me know if you have found other ways to develop an “attitude of gratitude” in your house. I would love to share them with everyone.