A Simple Gratitude Hack for Kids

We know that teaching kids to develop the habit of gratitude has many benefits.   Better sleep may even be one of them, depending on the study.  Since better sleep can lead to better learning (we like better learning around here), we have yet another good reason to encourage kids to practice this profoundly positive skill.


Hands of boy wearing gray, writing note on white paper. Brown envelope. Wood table. Orange pencil.


Kids Who Resist Gratitude

What if your child doesn’t respond well to your efforts to help them become a more grateful human?  What if making gratitude lists and writing in gratitude journals and other scientifically supported exercises are all met with resistance? We certainly can’t force kids to be grateful.


Some kids with ADHD are particularly resistant.  They tend to embrace more of a glass-half-empty outlook on life.


To make your efforts even more challenging, the more that kids practice a negative outlook, the more they wire their brains to support their negative thinking.


No surprise, then, that a glass-half-empty attitude can easily become “everything is horrible.”


Throw into the mix the inflexible thinking piece that often accompanies ADHD.  If that child also happens to be living through a difficult time like, oh, let’s say, a global pandemic, that negative sentiment can quickly morph into “everything is horrible… ALL OF THE TIME.”


Clearly we want to stop this cascade of negativity as soon as we can.  It’s perpetuating itself.  Since it’s growing stronger, it’s also growing more difficult to reverse.


Notice that I said difficult, not impossible.


The Gratitude Hack for Kids

Just as with a negative outlook, the more we practice a positive, grateful outlook, the stronger it becomes.  In order to reach kids who may appear to be unreachable, I have a simple hack for you.


Full disclosure, I don’t have any kiddos at home now so I haven’t tried this personally.  However, I think this gratitude hack offers kids an easier way to embrace a different perspective, little by little at first.  It’s a bit of a back door approach, but since we know how powerful and life-affirming gratitude can be, why not give it a try?


At the end of each week, Jimmy Fallon (yes, of The Tonight Show fame), includes a sketch where he writes thank you notes.  At least he pretends to write them.  He does this with a lot of humor and sarcasm (perfect for resistant kids and/or snarky teenagers).


He doesn’t just thank people, though.  He also thanks places and things.

“Thank you, peer pressure, for being totally not cool. Unless my friends think it’s cool, then it’s pretty cool, I guess.”

“Thank you, people who say, ‘I really shouldn’t,’ for letting me know that you’re about to eat a lot of my fries.’”


You get the idea.


Is it the warm and fuzzy gratitude practice that you’re trying to encourage kids to adopt?  No, not exactly, but it’s a way in.


How it Works

Of course I’m not suggesting that you sit down with your kids to watch The Tonight Show.  That would be inappropriate.  Seriously.  It’s not always PG.


I do recommend that you get together as a family one night per week for a thank you note “sketch” of your own.   Here’s what that looks like.


1. Start with plenty of thank you notes. You can find giant boxes of generic ones for pretty cheap.  Or simply make your own.  Nothing fancy here, or time consuming.


2. One night per week, every member of the family writes ONE thank you note, Jimmy Fallon style.

Make it fun.  Make it silly.  Sit at the table together and make it a bonding experience.


3. Take turns sharing what you wrote (or drew). Let it turn into a discussion about other things you might be grateful for.

Silly or serious.  Fallon style or not.  Don’t force it if it doesn’t happen naturally.


4. When you’re finished, collect the notes and save them all for the next time anyone needs a pick-me-up. Be sure everyone signs and dates their notes.  Your future selves are sure to have a grateful laugh later.


Remember, rewiring old habits into new ones takes practice.  This isn’t a one-and-done gratitude hack. Why not create a new family tradition that not only helps transform your child’s negative thought patterns, but leaves the whole family reaping the benefits of gratitude?


I don’t know about you, but I happen to think better sleep is always a good thing!  And so is happiness, and enthusiasm, and optimism…


More to Be Grateful For

Want to learn more about gratitude for kids?  Read some interesting research findings here:

Printable Gratitude Journal for Kids

100 Gratitude Prompts for Kids of All Ages


Find a roundup of free printable activities for kids (and for the rest of us) here:

Gratitude Printables Roundup