Raising Grateful Kids

The prevailing message in the media today is clear: you need more money, a bigger house, a
better car, a more expensive wardrobe, and all the latest gadgets in order to achieve happiness and
social status. Our children receive similar messages. There is always a new video game, gaming system,
or smart phone, and the ideal brands of clothes and shoes tend to be the ones which cost the most
money. The message from the media to our children is that they need these things to be happy. I asked
my son to make a list of the things he considers necessities, things he “cannot live without.” His list
looked like this: “Food, water, shelter, sleep, iPad, computer, YouTube, PlayStation, games.” When
asked if he really could not live without his electronics, his response was “I wouldn’t want to.”

It is difficult at times for our children to distinguish their needs from their wants when they are
told by society that they “need” so much stuff! In such a social climate, how are we to raise grateful
kids? Rothenburg and his fellow researchers found in a 2017 study that gratefulness in children can
indeed be cultivated by parents. Children showed increased gratitude and a more cheerful mood after
engaging in activities the authors labeled “gratitude-related.” Gratitude-related activities could include
giving back to the community through volunteering, writing thank-you notes when receiving a gift,
listing five things daily to be grateful for, or participating in conversations about being thankful.

When children are given what they want without limits, they lack appreciation and feel entitled.
Saying “no” to your child’s requests may be difficult in the moment, but this will benefit your child in the
long run. Your child will learn to be patient and will be more appreciative of what he has. One helpful
strategy is to discuss with your child before you enter a store which items you are there to buy and
what, if anything, he is permitted to choose from the store. Once you have set limits, be sure to
reinforce them. Do not give in if your child throws a tantrum, or he will learn that you will give him what
he wants if his behavior is bad enough. Another way to teach children to value what they have is to give
them an allowance for completing chores. When kids legitimately earn their own money and must save
it to make a purchase, they gain a better understanding of money and its value. Giving your child an
allowance is also helpful when your child begs for the newest toy or video game. Because he has a
means of obtaining this with his allowance, there is no need for him to ask you, and you can remind him
of this.

Another finding in the Rothenburg study mentioned earlier was that grateful parents are
associated with grateful children. Our kids learn how to behave by watching us. If we endorse
materialistic attitudes, overspend on material items we cannot afford, or constantly complain about
luxuries we want but do not have, our children are learning that the things they have are not good
enough, and owning more “stuff” will make them happy. When we as parents express gratitude for
what we have or show gratitude towards others who help us by thanking them or reciprocating kind
acts, our children learn that relationships with others are valuable and material possessions are not
everything. Try to be thankful for something or someone every day. Your kids won’t be the only ones
who benefit!

Rothenburg, W.A., Hussong, A.M., Langley, H.A., Egerton, G.A., Halberstadt, A.G., Coffman, J.L.,
Mokrova, I., & Costanzo, P.R. (2017). Grateful parents raising grateful children: Niche selection and the
socialization of child gratitude. Applied Developmental Science, 21(2), 106-120.