How to Raise a Grateful Child - And Why You Should

Easy, everyday ways to teach kids to be thankful and why it's important

gratitude - boy holding flowers
Children who feel and express gratitude are healthier and happier. Flashpop/Getty Images

Did you know that one of the most important things you can do for your child's development, well-being, and happiness is to teach him how to be grateful for the people and things in his life? Research shows that kids who are thankful are happier, less depressed, less materialistic, more generous, and have more friends, to name just a few of the many benefits of living life with a sense of gratitude.

Teaching a child to be grateful is such a crucial foundation because it can lead to so many other positive things in kids' lives. And the good news is that you can incorporate small and easy habits and routines into your lives to teach kids how to be grateful and shape their outlook to not only enrich their lives but to strengthen your relationship with them and help them grow into healthy and happy adults.

Why It's Important to Teach a Child to be Grateful

Teaching a child gratitude can benefit his emotional, psychological, and even physical health in countless ways. According to Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character by Jeffrey J. Froh and Giacomo Bono, research shows that grateful kids:

  • are happier
  • are more optimistic
  • have better social support from friends and family
  • are satisfied with school, family, friends, and themselves
  • are more likely to give more emotional support to others
  • have higher grades and are more engaged in schoolwork
  • are physically healthier and report fewer headaches, stomaches, etc.
  • are less depressed
  • are less envious and materialistic

Teaching kids to be thankful is clearly a key factor in raising children who are not spoiled, who steer clear of affluenza, and are generally good children who are pleasant to be around.

The Pitfalls of NOT Teaching a Child Gratitude

If the benefits of teaching your child how to be thankful aren't enough to inspire you to make gratitude a part of your child's everyday life, consider what researchers found are the consequences of having kids who are not grateful. Ungrateful kids:

  • have a sense of entitlement and don't see the need to be grateful
  • are more materialistic
  • have a different value system than grateful kids (for example, wanting things instead of wanting to grow as a person and give to others)
  • are less satisfied and less happy with life and with themselves
  • tend to be overindulged and are less able to delay gratification

Overindulgence is, in fact, closely tied to being ungrateful. According to David Bredehoft, PhD, professor emeritus at Concordia University, St. Paul, MN., and one of the authors of "How Much is Too Much? Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children - From Toddlers to Teens - In An Age of Overindulgence," which was co-written with Jean Illsley Clarke, PhD and Connie Dawson, PhD, overindulged children are often more demanding and unappreciative. "If a child breaks or loses something and a parent immediately replaces it, that child won't have gratitude," says Dr. Bredehoft.

The more overindulged the child is, the less able he will be to delay gratification, which leads to materialism, ungratefulness, and ultimately, unhappiness. On the other hand, when a child has to work for things, he can set goals, work hard to achieve them, and then feel proud of himself when he can get something he wants.

What You Can Do Every Day to Raise a Grateful Child

The good news is that you don't need to make huge changes in your family routine to help your child be more grateful. And if you want to steer your child toward having more gratitude in his life, it's never too late to instill some habits to change course.

Here are some things parents can do on a regular basis to raise a grateful child.

First, think of building gratitude as goal worthy of your time. Making a commitment to instilling daily habits to help your child become a more grateful person is an important step in raising a grateful child, says Froh. Learn what you have to do, put weekly or daily effort into it, and commit to this goal for a long period of time.

Have your child to write down what she is grateful for. In Making Grateful Kids, the authors say that their research shows that students who made an effort to think about the good things in their lives, and the people who make those good things happen, became happier, more grateful, and more optimistic. Researchers asked sixth and seventh graders to keep a journal for two weeks. One group of students were asked to write down what they were grateful for, the second group of asked to write down things tthey thought were hassles, and the third group only filled in a questionnaire that all the kids got. Even three weeks after keeping the gratitude journals, the kids who were asked to keep track of what they were thankful for reported liking school more, were grateful for their education, and said they were learning more and eager to go to school.

Teach your child to think about what it means when someone helps him. When your child begins to consider the meaning of someone who helped him in some way (say, a friend who skips a soccer game, even though he loves soccer, to help him study for a test, for example), and how the friend's actions benefited him and at what cost (the friend missed soccer so that your child could do well on the test), it deepens your child's understanding of giving and gratitude, which will carry over into his future relationships in his life.

Model gratitude. "I don't think parents give that enough attention," says Jeffrey Froh. "For example, write thank you notes and include kids in the experience. Let them know why they're doing it and what impact the thank you note had on the person who received it." And be sure to make it a point to routinely thank people who help you, such as a waiter at a restaurant or the person at the grocery store who bags your groceries. Your child is watching, and will learn how to show gratitude by watching you interact with others in your daily routine.

Show gratitude toward your kids. Every time your child brings her dishes to the sink, say thank you, suggests Froh. "Some parents say, 'Why should I thank my kid for doing something she's supposed to do?'" says Froh. "The answer is that by doing this, you reinforce good behavior and model gratitude for your child."

Focus on some key words every day. "Develop a grateful linguistic style," says Froh. "Think of and use words like 'blessed,' 'lucky,' and 'fortunate.' What we say influences what we do. Your kids will pick up on how you speak."

Volunteer and help others. Include your child in volunteer work, such as making sandwiches at church or donating to families in need. By doing this, "kids learn that they are lucky and blessed," says Froh.

Remind kids to be kind and have empathy for others. When a child considers others' needs and thinks about how that person responded to her own needs, it increases appreciation for that person's kindness.

When kids learn to be grateful, they will have a richer, better view of themselves and the world around them.

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