Can we teach gratitude to kids? - Happy + Well : Happy + Well

Can we teach gratitude to kids?

Written by on August 18, 2015 in Learning, Young People with 3 Comments

UnknownA friend lamented to me recently the heart sink she felt on the morning of her 11 year-old-daughter Lucy’s birthday. Even though Lucy had a stack of presents to open, she seemed disappointed there weren’t more of them. She barely glanced at each gift after unwrapping it before she was reaching for the next one on the pile, and when she was done, she didn’t say thank you. She even complained that some of the items she’d received were the wrong brand and wrong colour. My pal was horrified; her beautiful daughter had turned into a spoilt brat.

Sadly, my friend’s experience is by no means unique with more and more kids exhibiting this kind of ungrateful behaviour. Dannielle Miller, who’s being interviewed here, is the CEO of Enlighten Education and knows all about this epidemic among young people of thanklessness. Her new book is Gratitude: A Positive New Approach to Raising Thankful Kids, in which she examines what it means to have appreciation, and how this can be cultivated in our children because as she says, “we all want to have thankful kids, but more than that we all want to have happy kids.”

First, though, we need to recognise what we’re up against: what forces are at work in our society conspiring to turn our kids into whining, insatiable monsters?

Miller says one problem is that our celebrity-drenched media promotes narcissism and “generally we’re seeing more selfish, more self-obsessed behaviours being popularised and, in fact, glamorised.”

Another is that we’re too wealthy a society for our own good. Due to what Miller calls the ‘abundance paradox’, we become less grateful the more we have. On the other hand, give a poor child a pre-owned doll and she’ll probably treasure it for life.

Then there’s the fact young people today are “the most marketed generation ever; these kids are bombarded with messages that tell them unless they have the latest and greatest, they’re missing out.”

Miller says gratitude doesn’t come naturally to kids. It’s a quality they’re not born with but one they acquire over time. Certainly little kids can learn rote phrases like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ but until they develop, for example, the ability to empathise, they can’t “truly understand that someone’s gone out of their way to help them.”

So how to nurture this quality in our children? Miller is adamant one thing not to do is try drumming into kids how lucky they are. She recalls her own experience as a child when her parents would threaten to send her uneaten dinner to the starving children in Africa. It had zero impact on her. “So you can’t use techniques like that,” she says.

Miller’s advice to parents is to model the desired behaviour, in this case gratitude. “So often parents that complain about their children being ungrateful may not be particularly grateful themselves, or if they are, they might not necessarily be demonstrating that.”

Miller is full of suggestions for parents seeking to be better role models. One is they create a “family gratitude box” into which family members deposit notes of thanks and recognition addressed to each other, the idea being they read these together at the end of the week.

Another is they commit the whole family to some form of volunteering, even if it’s just making cupcakes for the local fire brigade during the fire season. Miller says, “The idea of giving back to the community is really important and I think by doing that you realise just how fortunate you are as well; it gives you a sense of perspective that’s really important.”

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  1. Thank you for this wonderful post. I shall share far and wide. Gratitude has so many benefits for us all; stronger connections to community, increased happiness, even physical benefits such as more energy and improved sleep! It is well worth focusing on.

    • Kathy Graham Kathy Graham says:

      Thank you for commenting Dannielle. I’m glad you liked the post. I certainly enjoyed listening to your interview with Natasha. Keep up the good work! And yes please, would be delighted if you could share this among your own networks.

  2. A few years ago I had the stunning revelation that ‘thank you’s ‘were more important than ‘please’s’.

    I was sitting at a very formal silver service meal feeling a little out of my depth. My wine glass was empty and I asked the waiter for another drink. He looked slightly peeved and embarrassed. I reflected on this for a while. How could I have handled the situation better. He had been trained to anticipate and attend to my every need. In his mind, he’d let me down.

    When my glass needed filling again, I tried another tactic: I glanced casually at him, and he leapt forward immediately, bottle in hand. He filled my glass to the brim! “Thank you so much”, I beamed, and he smiled back appreciatively.

    Not only had I cracked how to interact with ‘servants’ and behave like the Queen (“Thank you so much”. “Oh wonderful, thank you!”, ” lovely meal” “marvellous” etc) but I’d also realized that “please” is essentially a word based on self-centered need, while “thank you” is an act of genuine gratitude.

    Simply saying ‘thank you’ more often each day necessarily requires us to notice little acts of kindness in others, and to affirm them.

    A great post Kathy, on an important topic.

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