Gratitude is More Than Saying Thank You 

Peace at Home November 22, 2023 | Ruth Freeman

University of North Carolina Psychology Professor, Andrea Hussong, has conducted research on one of the most important questions that parents ask, “How can I raise a grateful child?” 

Dr. Hussong reports that while there is considerable research about the powerfully positive effects of gratitude on adults, there is little exploration of how to inspire gratitude in our children. Thankfully, Dr. Hussong, has identified some effective strategies for parents that make a lot of sense. She identifies a few action steps that will help your child experience gratitude:

  • Consider ways to help your child be more aware and notice what they have and what they receive. If their uncle sends a unicorn puzzle to your 6 year old daughter, you might ask her, I wonder why Uncle Michael chose that kind of puzzle for you? What do you like about that puzzle? Discussing uncle’s intention and thoughts about her, may bring a different kind of meaning to the gift. Helping children pick out gifts with the same thoughtfulness will also serve to increase awareness and noticing.
  • Modeling gratitude might include talking out loud about how much you appreciate that your spouse makes dinner each night or that they would hard to bring home money so the family can have nice things. Expressing gratitude out loud is a great way to model the behavior you want in your child. 
  • Consider the role models around your child. Do the people you spend time with tend to express gratitude to the children and each other? 
  • Brainstorm ways for your child to express appreciation. Forcing them to write thank you notes isn’t really going to inspire gratitude. One child might prefer to draw a picture and send it along. Another might like to send an email. You can help them think about words they say – “Maybe you want to tell Nana what you liked about that puzzle.” “I wonder how Auntie will feel when she gets that drawing in the mail?” 
  • And finally, consider regular practices in your family like telling your child at bedtime one thing you appreciated about them that and they can say one thing they appreciated about you. Or you can ask at bedtime, “What’s one way someone was kind to you today and one way you were kind to someone?” 

Find the approaches that feel right to you and your family but keep in mind that being forced to say thank you or write a note or pointing out how much more “fortunate” your child is than others will not create the authentic grateful approach to life that you wish for your child. 

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