How to teach gratitude to kids

Reporter: Lindsey Sablan
Published: Updated:
Photo via MGN, Pixabay

Researchers have long known that adopting an attitude of gratitude can have a positive impact on adults, helping us foster strong personal relationships and improving our mental health. Here are details on how social scientists are working not only to learn more about kids and gratitude but to discover the best ways parents can pass it on.

After a full day of work and school, social scientist Jennifer Coffman carves out quality time with her 13-year-old son, Donovan. Board games are her thing, but this is more Donovan’s speed. Her boys love Ultimate Frisbee, so this busy mom of three volunteered to manage their local team.

Coffman told Ivanhoe, “He saw what I was doing. I was doing it for everyone. But I wouldn’t be doing it if he wasn’t invested and interested.”

Andrea Hussong, PhD, is a clinical psychologist at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“The goal, because we know very little about what gratitude looks like in kids, is to understand the development of gratitude and what parents do to socialize that,” said Hussong about her study on gratitude.

Scientists studied 100 parent and child pairs and found that parents who showed more gratitude participated in activities with others who also encouraged gratitude in their kids, like joint family dinners, play dates and community service groups. Researchers also asked parents to report on their child’s gratitude.

Hussong detailed, “Even six-year-olds in our focus groups would say, ‘She said thank you, but she didn’t mean it.’ They get the idea that gratitude means it.”

Social scientists say parents should praise children when they see a gratitude moment and remind kids when they don’t.

Coffman said, “Trust me; it doesn’t always look like a nice conversation. There are times when your child messes up and that’s okay because they’re a kid.”

Experts say if parents understand how kids experience moments when they aren’t grateful, they can help remove any barriers.

The researchers say gratitude can emerge over time, and the more children are exposed to opportunities that encourage gratitude, the deeper the gratitude can develop. The researchers are also in the middle of developing an online training program for parents to help them have gratitude conversations with tweens and teenagers.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising and Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, News Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

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