Learn some research-backed tips for fostering a thankful child.
Wanting to raise a thankful child has its challenges. The entitlement cultural narrative can be a significant challenge in your quest.
Has your child been given a birthday gift or invited to a friend’s party? You know they really liked the gift or party, and when it was time to leave, you say what all good parents do, “What do you say?” Your child looks at you and mumbles a “Thank you” to the host or gift giver. As you smile and laugh it off, you wonder why they are so unenthusiastic.
Are you raising an ungrateful child? The situation is common. Gratefulness is a critical component of kids’ social-emotional development. Studies have shown that gratitude is a significant predictor of happiness even with the younger generation and increases their chances of being happy kids and adults.
Consumerism and consumption are the predominant narratives in popular culture. Ads, websites and all media to which kids are exposed inundate them with the opposite message. So, what’s the answer? Ban all TV shows, trips to the mall and everything else that promotes an attitude of consumption? This is unrealistic.
The answer is to help kids with the larger picture of the world around them, increasing their perspective and helping them understand why they should be thankful. Children have a minimal perspective and understanding of the larger world around them. Here are a few ideas for things we parents can do to foster gratitude:
A recent study published in the journal Child Development showed that children whose parents described more about how other people may feel or think, have more extensive perspective skills than those whose parents do not use descriptive language.
In some respects, this study seems kind of obvious. You would expect that talking to a child about taking another person’s perspective would help them learn this ability. When you really consider this, though, it is pretty amazing. The cognitive skill it takes for a youngster to understand another person’s perspective is somewhat complex, and to think that a parent talking to them about this can influence how quickly they learn the skill.
Children’s ability to understand the concept of thankfulness and gratitude develops with age and maturity. All along their path of development, we can incorporate small things into our daily interactions with them that will set the stage for a greater understanding of gratitude.
This seems simple, but it can have a big impact. Modeling thankfulness can be as easy as saying “Thank you” to your child when they do a favor for you, but it can also be more. Modeling gratitude can be a regular part of daily life when we mention (so our kids can hear us) how grateful we are for things like siblings getting along and not fighting on a weekend afternoon together, the beautiful weather outside, your child’s teacher who is incredibly patient, or how kind your child’s grandparents are, who babysit regularly, etc.
Discuss Needs Vs. Wants
Discussing the difference between “needs” and “wants” can be eye-opening to kids. We can help our kids see the difference between items they need to survive and thrive and those that are nice but unnecessary. Making this distinction clear allows them to see how they can be grateful for all the “add-ons” they have in their lives.
Our heart tells us, and research backs up the fact that true happiness comes from gratitude and caring about others. By incorporating simple activities and being mindful of our words, our kids will naturally develop thankfulness that will anchor them to a place of lasting happiness.
Anthony Cupo is a trained mindfulness facilitator (TMF) from the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. He is a co-owner of Stepping Forward Counseling Center, LLC, and has been meditating for over 30 years.