Heart of 4-H: Cultivating Gratitude in Youth

Gift giving occasions can teach youth the benefits of gratitude. These adults may be someone the youth may want to thank.  Many times, around holidays and special occasions we buy gifts for others to show our gratitude.  You may ask yourself, “how can youth give gifts to show their appreciation if they do not have money?”  Some adults give kids an amount of money to buy gifts for others, but I would like to share another idea that the youth can do on their own and learn the value of gratitude as well as foster a sense of belonging.

Dr. Cline and Jim Fay (2020) talk about the concept of replenishing the energy of those who positively impact the lives of children. This is a great way to have members find ways to give back to the adults in their life as a gift or just a thank you. You can model this process with them. Have the member make it their mission to watch what others do and reflect on things they could do to save that person’s energy.  For example, Dad/mom/guardian cleans up after each meal.  Perfect opportunity for you to help the member to identify what they can do.  The youth can show that they value that person by saying “Dad/mom/guardian, I will clear the table and wipe the table, so you can sit and relax for a few minutes.” Perhaps on a Saturday morning the adults are mowing the lawn.  Maybe the youth member could mow or use the blower to clean off the sidewalks. It is always important to help the member reflect on how it made them feel after they showed gratitude to that adult.

Wonder if the member wants to try this strategy with their 4-H leader? Dr. Arnold’s Thriving Model (2019) research talks about the importance of caring adults that provide support to our youth.    How could this work at a 4-H meeting?  It just takes a moment to reflect on what tasks could be replaced with the youth’s energy.  Maybe the leader sets up chairs and takes them down after the meeting.  Perfect opportunity for the youth to jump in and give back some energy for the leader. They could say, “Ms. Clover, let me set up and take down the chairs for you.” Once again have the member reflect on how it made them feel to show gratitude to the leader.

This will allow them to begin to believe in their abilities to make a difference in the world around them as they build new skills. The youth could think ahead of time of other opportunities they can use this strategy to show gratitude and write a note in advance.    This process allows youth to take time to reflect on what others do for them, finds value in contributing to the house or club, and the adult feels valued.  All of this leads to a sense of belonging that Dr. Arnold says is so important for positive youth development.

In conclusion, special occasions give youth the opportunity to take time to recognize the contributions and efforts put forth by the caring adults around them which builds gratitude and a sense of belonging. Ask the youth how it felt to show gratitude. This can be the first step in noticing and appreciating the positive in life.


Arnold, M. E., & Gagnon, R. J. (2019). Illuminating the process of youth development: The mediating effect of thriving on youth development program outcomes. Journal of Human Sciences and Extension, 7(3), 24–51.

Cline, F, & Fay, J. (2020). Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility. Colorado Springs, CO.: NavPress.


Posted: May 9, 2024

Category: 4-H & Youth, Clubs & Volunteers, Health & Nutrition, Relationships & Family, UF/IFAS, UF/IFAS Extension, UF/IFAS Teaching
Tags: 4-H, Anorris, Central Florida, Children, Citizenship, Communications, Family, Hillsborough County, Life Skills, Tampa, Uf/ifas Extension, Youth

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