Raising a Grateful Child

Starting at an early age, children are inundated with all kinds of messages about being consumers. The messages imply that in order to be cool and happy you need to wear certain clothes, have the right shoes on your feet, have a smart phone in your pocket, drive the right car, live in the right kind of house, and the list goes on. The goal is to get as much as possible rather than be grateful and generous. Sadly, none of these things will provide the long-term happiness fix all human beings crave.

Growing up, when I would complain about having to do chores, walk to piano lessons, or what everybody else got to have or do that I didn’t, my parents would say I should be grateful and then proceed to tell me how much harder it was when they were growing up. You know, the stories about how they had to walk to school uphill both ways in the snow.

There is no question that it can be very challenging in this day and age to raise a grateful child, but it is possible. Here are some strategies for raising grateful children.

Acknowledge your blessings.
Take time each day to share as a family something that happened that day for which you are grateful.

Volunteer as a family.
Find ways to volunteer as a family in the community. Encourage your children to look for opportunities and actually plan the experience for your family.

Teach them the value of money.
Many children have no idea how money works. They think their parents go and ask for it at a machine and the machine gives it to them. Start teaching them early how to save, give, and spend wisely.

Set expectations.
As adults, we know that material things don’t make us happy. It’s important to keep things in perspective for our children. Avoid the temptation to give them everything they ask for but don’t really need. As they get older, talk about the difference between a want and a need. Birthday parties and holiday celebrations can be awesome without going overboard. Many parents have encouraged their children to focus on a charity for their birthday. Instead of people bringing presents to the child, they bring something for the charity.

Teach your children to say “thank you.”
When someone does something for your child, teach them to say thank you. This begins to instill in them an attitude of gratefulness versus entitlement.

Be a role model.
Most of what children learn is caught rather than taught. When they observe you being grateful they will take it in – even if they don’t get it right then, you are still teaching them the behavior you want to see.
When teaching your children what it means to be grateful, keep in mind that at our core, we are all selfish people. Learning to appreciate and be grateful takes time. Some children catch on quickly and others are more challenging. As a parent, we have to keep the goal in mind, practice patience, and keep on putting one foot in front of the other.

Picture of Julie Baumgardner, MS, CFLE

Julie Baumgardner, MS, CFLE

President and CEO, First Things First

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