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How to Raise Grateful Kids?

Updated: Jun 11, 2023

As a parent, you spend $272,000 on average to raise a child through high school. Not to mention the time and many other sacrifices you make for your family. Cultivate gratitude in children, so they may one day appreciate you, the amazing gift of life and live their lives well.

Ungrateful kids are a common parenting gripe, especially amongst parents in the global West whose children have so much comparatively. When where 1 in 6 children live in extreme poverty around the world, it seems incredibly ungrateful when children complain about minor inconveniences, like a long car ride, chores, not enough video game time... How then do we help our kids to experience more gratitude?

“Gratitude is not the greatest of virtues, but the mother of all other virtues.” - Cicero

Gratitude is Far More Than Saying Thank You

The development of gratitude is fairly complex and requires that other skills and competencies are in place and embedded before true gratitude can begin to emerge. According to the ‘Raising Grateful Children’ project at UNC Chapel Hill, gratitude is an experience that has four parts:

  1. What we NOTICE in our lives for which we can be grateful,

  2. How we THINK about why we have been given those things,

  3. How we FEEL about the things we have been given, and

  4. What we DO to express appreciation in turn.

How to Help Kids Experience Gratitude?

The development of gratitude is fairly complex and requires developing a theory of mind, emotional awareness and empathy. Here are a few tips for parents on this journey:

  • Model it Research suggests that grateful parents raise grateful kids. So, model gratitude by taking the time to explain to kids how their actions, or the actions of other have made you feel special and thank them for it. This helps kids understand what it is like to receive gratitude.

  • Help kids take perspective Perspective is important. As children get older and develop empathy, drawing their attention to bigger issues in the world can help them to realize how much they already have and feel grateful.

  • Don't force it Many people have childhood memories of being forced to sit down after the holidays to write thank-you notes or being forced to say thank you. The trouble is when we force our children to express gratitude in this way it undermines the intrinsic motivation so it may be better to back off a bit and not force a thank you.

  • Ask questions instead Instead of forcing gratitude, asking questions can help to build the skills needed to develop gratitude. When your child is given something, you could ask questions like: Why do you think you received this gift? Do you think you owe the giver something in return? Do you think you earned the gift? Do you think the gift was something the giver had to give you? How does this make you feel?

  • Encourage emotions Expressing gratitude by smiling, saying thank you or giving a hug is simply an extension of exercising emotion so encouraging and allowing kids to express all kinds of emotions lays an important groundwork for expressing gratitude.

  • Show gratitude by helping others Practice makes perfect, so another way to help teach children gratitude is to encourage them to participate in gratitude-rich activities. Try volunteering with kids to help others, which builds both empathy and understanding of others and the world, and also an awareness of your own good fortune.

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