From Spoiled to Grateful – 9 Tips for Raising Thankful Kids
Gratitude is often credited as being the secret to a happy life, but it isn’t something kids are born with. Every parent knows the feeling of spending tons of time and money to give their kids awesome gifts or experiences, only to be met with, “this wasn’t the color I wanted,” or “we never do anything fun!” All parents want grateful kids, but teaching your kids to be grateful takes a lot more than just training them to say, “thanks” at every turn.
So what can parents do to instill true appreciation in their children?
1. Define how thankful feels
Discuss the feelings behind the words, “thank you,” both from the giving and receiving ends. Ask your child how it feels when their teachers, friends, or parents thank them for doing something nice. Then ask how they feel when they show appreciation to someone. Understanding the positive feelings that result from gratitude will make them more likely to express it.
2. Model gratitude
Make it a point to thank those who serve – bus drivers, waiters, military, mail carriers. Make sure to also express gratitude to your children – for doing the dishes without asking, for getting ready for school on time, and for simply being themselves and bringing joy to your life. When you receive gifts, help your children view them as a meaningful gesture and not just a way to score new stuff.
“Grandma doesn’t make a lot of money now that she’s retired. It really means a lot that she sacrifices to send us these thoughtful gifts.”
3. Don’t force it
The waitress goes out of her way to bring your child a free dessert just to be sweet. Your kid sits there stone-faced, not giving so much as a smile, much less a, “thank you.” Gently remind your child to say thanks, but if they don’t do it, don’t make a big deal of it and just thank the waitress yourself. A battle of wills can be counter-productive to your child adopting a thankful attitude. Over time, your example and gentle reminders will stick.
4. Make gratitude interesting
Tying gratitude into your child’s interests can be a great way to reinforce appreciation. When playing with your child, role play scenarios where toys or puppets express gratitude. If your teen is interested in mowing lawns or washing cars for extra cash, ask them to consider donating part of their earnings to a charity they care about.
5. Teach fortitude
Gratitude is dependent on two other virtues – fortitude (coping with challenges) and positivity (seeing the bright side). Most kids are born thinking life should be easy, care free, and devoid of heartache. They’ll have a hard time being thankful until they accept that life can be difficult. The way that you process your challenging experiences offers a foundation for your kids to learn how to process their own. Talk to them about difficult times in your life that resulted in wisdom, growth, and strength.
“My girlfriend dumped me in high school. It felt unbearable at the time, but I’m grateful that my life worked out the way it did because then I met your mom and we had you.”
6. Create a culture of gratitude
Make gratitude part of your family culture by incorporating it into daily life. When you’re at dinner, talk about the work of others that went into your meal. The farmers, the harvesters, the truck drivers, the grocery staff, and of course, the cook! Volunteer at soup kitchens or participate in toy drives as a family. Grab some butcher paper and make it a weekly tradition for each family member to list 5 things they’re thankful for. Keep the list displayed in a visible area for frequent reminders of your blessings.
7. Be careful not to spoil
Resist the urge to cater to your child’s every desire; you may think you’re doing them a favor, but too much indulgence can make your child feel that their worth is defined by their possessions rather than their character. This can be damaging to their self-esteem and identity development. Sure, you can buy them treats here and there, but allow them to earn expensive items and the things they really want. This will help them appreciate the value of a dollar and build a strong work ethic.
8. Be patient
It’s not always easy for kids or teens to recognize the feelings and sacrifices of others; instilling gratitude is a lifelong parenting task and will not happen overnight. Be patient and know that your diligence in modeling gratitude and appreciation will influence their attitudes over time.
9. See a specialist
Gratitude is important to your child’s emotional well-being, but raising grateful kids can be challenging in a world of billboards and commercials telling them they need more and more to be happy. If you’re concerned that your child or teen is having trouble developing a grateful attitude, a Specialist at Variations can help.
Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D., is an expert in child and educational psychology. Dr. Shinn can evaluate your child to see if they have a mental health diagnosis and work with you in creating a plan to ensure they receive the support to develop a healthy perspective.
Cynthia Johnson, LMFT, is a specialist in Parenting and Child Therapy at Variations Psychology. Cynthia can provide counseling and effective tools to help your child or teen gain a positive perspective and build gratitude.
Dr. Christopher J. Sample, Psy.D. specializes in supporting men and teenage boys through life’s transitions. If your teenage son struggles to feel or express gratitude, Dr. Sample can help him learn new ways of thinking and behaving that will empower a thankful attitude.
Dr. Daniella A. Davis, Psy.D., is an expert in dealing with the unique challenges that women face throughout each stage of life. If you need support in managing the stress of motherhood and improving your family’s gratitude, Dr. Davis can guide you.
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Variations Psychology is a group practice specializing in Child and Family Psychology.
Our specialists provide therapy to infants, children, adolescents, and adults to help them overcome the many challenges they may face throughout the lifespan of a family. We also conduct diagnostic testing of child and adult conditions that may impact the family’s mental health and development (e.g. ADHD, Autism Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders, college entrance exams).
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Havanger, Toma S. (2013). 10 Ways to Raise a Grateful Kid. PBS.org. Retrieved online: http://www.pbs.org/parents/special/article-ten-ways-raise-grateful-kid.html
Lickona, Thomas. (2004). Character Matters: How to Help Our Children Develop Good Judgement, Integrity, and Other Essential Values. pp 10-12.
Lickona, Thomas. (2018). How to Raise Grateful Kids in an Era of Thankless People. TIME Magazine. Retrieved online: http://time.com/5233398/raise-grateful-children/
Siegel, D.J. (2014). Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You. pp 1-10.