Teaching kids how to express gratitude

by / Feb 13, 2023


This interview is from A Kids Book About: The Podcast, with host Matthew Winner and author of A Kids Book About Gratitude, Ben Kenyon. It has been lightly edited for clarity.  


What is gratitude?


Great question. My definition of gratitude is just to show appreciation towards people, places, or things, or experiences, opportunities. 


To show appreciation. 


It's super simple to say “thank you”, to say “that's a blessing that I have now”, to say, “Hey, this is an opportunity that I didn't have before.” But I think gratitude is just expressing, you know, love and an appreciation of that thing, that person, place, or thing. 


Gratitude. Appreciation. Thanks. 


What does it look like to express gratitude?


Yeah. A couple of different things I think about, you know, our parents, right? Like giving them a hug and just saying like, “Hey, I love you.” during that hug. Like, I really want to make sure that you hear it, but also receive it. 


So making sure that if there's an animal, right, if there's a dog that's around or a cat or whatever, like give that cat, dog, whatever it is, a really strong hug to show appreciation again.


Or even just taking a moment just to write down in your journal, like, Man, I really appreciate the pancakes I had this morning. I really appreciate that you made the pancakes this morning.


I think it's super important to figure out other fun ways to express it that are bigger than, or more than just being verbal. You know, the verbal piece is huge, but action means everything. 




“Action means everything.” I love that. 


Ben shared a story with me that’s all about action and appreciation.


This is my barber. He just told me this last week.


The son was supposed to stay in the house after he got back home from school. I think he was about eight or nine. 


And when the dad was coming home, he saw his son outside. Right. His son got stuck outside because he locked himself out and he was so mad. And he was like, Dude, I told you to stay inside. But [the son] goes, Dad, I was just trying to take out the garbage because I wanted to do my part. I wanted to show appreciation for what it is that I thought I needed to bring to this family. And I saw you doing it. I see mom asking you to do it all the time, so I wanted to help you out.


So again, it was an interesting moment, but, all he was trying to do was show appreciation by taking the trash out. 



We can show gratitude through our words of appreciation. We can show gratitude by performing acts of service. Expressing gratitude isn’t limited to the times when we’re really, really happy. It’s different from that.


Gratitude doesn't always happen when amazing moments are happening. It's not always a ”positive thing”. What I mean by that is something bad could have happened. You know? A loved one could have been lost, right? 


This moment of gratitude can now be, Hey, I want to make sure that this person starts to feel better or it gets on the path to feel better during this tough setup. And here it is maybe a cup of coffee, maybe a hug. It may be words of affirmation.


I think it's super important to understand that gratitude isn't this, this fluffy thing that's always, that's only used during positive times, right? It's used during positive and negative times. And it's so, so important to make sure that you recognize how you want to be able to express it. And how people actually love to receive it. 





And gratitude is something we often first learn because it is modeled for us. Others show us gratitude in their actions and in their words, and we learn from them.


You know, I think back to when my mom when I was younger, she just put me in everything. Like the Karate Kid, you young folks out there may not understand or know what this is, but the karate kid was like this special movie from back in the day where Mr. Miyagi was teaching Danielson how to just be a better person overall during the movie. And it wasn't just about karate. 


And I remember walking away from that movie, like, “Mom! I want to do this.”  And she found a karate school and she sent me right to it. And then I was like, “Mom, I really want to do… I want to play soccer.” She found some soccer schools and sent me right to those soccer camps. 


And so I think about how amazing my parents were and being able to help me stay focused and discipline, and then all the other cool things that have kind of come along the way from just receiving or having the ability to work with some of the best athletes in the world, you know, working in the NBA as a performance coach. 


It's pretty incredible, right. To be able to now help some of the top influencers in the world be influential [and] continue to actually show up and show out, the way they know how to. So it's, there's all these cool things that have happened to me over my life. And so I think the way I like to actually look at gratitude right now is just saying, Hey dude, I'm so blessed. And I'm so thankful for all the people that have given me the ability to be here today. 



So, we learn gratitude by watching it happen through others, but would we do it on our own if no one taught us? Is gratitude a trait we’re born with? Or do we need to be taught how to express gratitude?


I think innately we were born and we're kind of selfish. It's a thing, right? We need food. We need people to take care of us. 


And at one point it's on our parents and all our people that are closest to us to just show us little signs, right. Because actions do speak louder than words, especially when you're a baby; because you're going to know the things that you see. And so I think it's important for us to start the learning process early. 


And that's what I actually love about A Kids Book About set-up is just like you're actually trying to start conversations way earlier, [and] also start habits where they start routines that are going to allow these young folks to grow up with having that ability to express gratitude and understand that this is how we should continue to move forward.


When I was first born, it was all about me, which is super important. And you are a human being. You are very valuable to the world and you should care about yourself, but there's a moment where you do need to be able to express outward and say, all right, this is something that isn't just happening because of me.



12-year-old listener Naya was considering a world without gratitude when they sent in this question: 


A question I have about gratitude is how sad would life be without gratitude? 


That question made me think of a line in the book where Ben writes, “But everyone knows, every superpower has a flaw… some impossible crushing weakness… just like Superman’s kryptonite, gratitude’s flaw is distraction.”

Gratitude is a superpower, and in its absence, something changes.


Understanding good things or bad things can happen.


Distractions can happen, but you still have to be able to use that gratitude muscle, that superpower that you have. It's super important just because life is full of distractions. It's full of obstacles and challenges. That's one thing that I think children have maybe not yet experienced as much as adults have.


Just because you know, these random obstacles are gonna come and if you have not yet built that gratitude. Understanding it's not going to be easy to actually utilize it when it's time to actually put it to use. 


So, understanding distraction, just knowing that something doesn't go your way. Maybe you don't get the pancakes you wanted that morning because you don't have the pancake mix. Maybe you don't get to go out there and participate in an event that you wanted to participate in because you had a family event that you had to actually go be a part of. 


Things happen. Those are distractions. Right? They can be, they can be derailing distractions, which knocked you all the way off, or they can be amazing lessons to now teach you about how to actually be grateful during tough moments. 


And I think that's where the superpower comes in. I think that's where the coolness comes in because now you're looking at this moment to say, All right, there's something I'm supposed to learn from this. Maybe it's practicing some discipline or focus, maybe it's just saying, alright, instant gratification? That isn't the thing.


“I know. I said I wanted it and I feel like I deserve it, but maybe not right now, maybe later on.” 


Right. And that's the thing that I want children and adults to get from this is just understanding that when distractions do occur, these are amazing lessons that you can now utilize as a strength at one point or as an experience. 


And now. Your gratitude muscle [can] be used a lot more, a lot more efficiently.



And as we end our time together today, I hope these words from Ben carry you through your whole week.


Gratitude isn't about always being positive. It's about being able to fight your way through the tough moments. It's about being able to show appreciation to two amazing things that you've been able to receive in your life. 


And it's for you to practice as much as you possibly can, because other people around you? They see your actions, they hear your words and you're the leader. You're the person that's now going to set the tone for the people that are around you.


So again, believe and understand that gratitude is something that is a lot more powerful than you just expressing it. It's more of a ripple that will affect so many people across the world. 





Each week on A Kids Book About: The Podcast, we talk about the big things going on in your world with a different author from our A Kids Book About series. This week we spoke with Ben Kenyon, the author of A Kids Book About Gratitude