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Want to Raise Grateful Kids? Here’s How, According to a Pediatrician and Parenting Expert

Are you concerned that your children don’t show enough  gratitude? If so, you’re not alone. Four out of five parents in the U.S. worry about this, according to a recent survey of 1,125 parents. Three quarters of them said that teaching their kids to be grateful was “a high priority.”

That makes a lot of sense. Once those children become adults, if they fail to express gratitude when appropriate, their careers are liable to suffer, whether they grow up to be entrepreneurs or employees. Their personal relationships may suffer as well. And since feelings of gratitude are linked to happiness, they also risk being unhappy as adults. But just how do you teach your kids to be grateful? The most effective way may be by doing something the parents in the survey never considered–expressing gratitude to their children.

Respondents in the survey said they were doing their best to instill gratitude in their kids using a variety of methods. The vast majority–88 percent–said their children said “please” and “thank you” as a matter of course. Sixty percent said their children helped with household chores. In addition, 37 percent said their children regularly donated their clothes and toys, and 36 percent said their children regularly said prayers of thanks.

Gratitude or good manners?

How effective are these approaches? It depends. It’s important, of course, for kids to learn to say “please” and “thank you.” But, as the study’s authors note, “there is a difference between politeness and gratitude.”

Similarly, having children do chores as a contribution to their household can teach them how everyone’s work fits together for the benefit of all. Volunteering and helping neighbors can teach children the same lesson in the larger community and show them how empathy and kindness can enrich their own lives.

But if you want to teach your kids gratitude, there’s a more effective way: Model it yourself. That very sound advice comes from Alison Escalante, a pediatrician, parenting expert, and TEDx speaker in an article on the Psychology Today website. Perhaps the most powerful way to model gratitude for your children is to express gratitude to them directly. Escalante recommends thanking your kids whenever they do something thoughtful or helpful–and also when they refrain from doing something, such as fighting with a sibling who’s provoking them. It will help, she adds, if you’re specific about what you’re thanking them for.

You can reinforce this lesson by letting your kids see you being grateful in general. So try expressing gratitude in front of them for the good things in your own life, especially the things you might easily take for granted–a sunny day,  good friends, a kind gesture from a stranger. This will not only teach gratitude, but mindfulness as well.

There’s a growing audience of Inc.com readers who receive a daily text from me with a self-care or motivational micro-challenge or idea. Often they text me back and we wind up in a conversation. (Interested in joining? You can learn more here.) Just like the parents in the survey, several of them have expressed concerns about their children not being grateful and feeling entitled to lots of presents, especially around the holidays.

Solving this may not be easy, especially with ads for toys and gadgets almost everywhere you look. But modeling grateful behavior can teach your kids a powerful lesson. It will set them up for better lives,and it might even make you happier as well.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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