Parents Teaching Gratitude and Civility Thwarted by Trump

When a leader bullies, parents must call out the unacceptable behavior.

Posted Jan 12, 2017

Public Domain, Joyce N. Boghosian
Source: Public Domain, Joyce N. Boghosian

What should we expect from a president or the First Lady?  People who state differences without resorting to name calling.  Leaders who act in a manner that is both refined and worth emulating. Those who know the meaning of gratitude even during times of difficulty.

After viewing Barack Obama’s elegant and eloquent farewell, I vowed that I would not watch Donald Trump hold a press conference. Then I succumbed to a clip with an exchange between Trump and a CNN reporter. Trump not only refused to take the man's question, but said his news organization was "terrible," and then called him"fake news." Further Trump referred to BuzzFeed News as "a failing pile of garbage," because he disagreed with their writing. At that January 11th moment, I knew for certain—civility was dead.

On daytime TV, adults and young people saw and heard rudeness and school yard talk from a man who should be a role model.  Mocking and belittling others creates hostility.  Whether at a press conference, in the workplace, at school, or at home such behavior sets the stage for a "name calling" America.

Jill Suttie reviewed a book last week for the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berekley. Titled "Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace" by Christine Porath, she quoted this professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business:

“Civility in American society has declined in recent years but remains important to people, according to surveys. When employers or employees ignore people at work, walk away from conversations, answer calls in the middle of meetings, publicly mock and belittle people, or take credit for wins while pointing fingers when things go sour, it destabilizes relationships and creates hostile work environments, says Porath.” GreaterGood 

Writing for in November, Professor Porah  pointed out:

“We have all seen this election campaign unfold: it has been divisive and chalked full of incivility. As a researcher who has studied incivility over the last two decades, I am incredibly concerned about the consequences for our government—and society.

"Incivility is proven to be distracting and debilitating. It inhibits problem-solving and collaboration, and diminishes our well being. . . And, it unfortunately has a way of silently spreading like a virus."  The Initiative

Research says gratitude can reduce antisocial behavior 

As we look at a possible four more years of Trump behavior, there is just one way to stop the rudeness virus from spreading—become role models for our children. Teaching children the value of gratitude may be what saves them from becoming bullies or being bullied themselves.  

Jeffrey J. Froh, Psy.D, is associate professor at Hofstra and a researcher on the effects of gratitude in children. He has said that children who learn gratitude are often more compassionate and kinder to others. In talking with him he pointed out:

“We think that in helping young people become more grateful, they will feel happier and more satisfied with their lives. In addition, it may make them less likely to lash out at others when they lose a game or feel hurt in some way.”

Froh pointed out that data indicate grateful teens have more self-control and, during a time when their identity is forming, gratitude correlates with fewer reports of antisocial and delinquent behaviors. He suggests that one should start teaching gratitude to children at a very young age. Some tips are included in Happy Father's Day

Listen to Michelle

How do we explain to children the behavior of a man who should be a role model, but is instead prone to unkind words? How do we tell them that "No, you cannot mock a disabled person just because Trump did it." And then we must add that Trump denied what he did even thought his actions were clearly captured on video?  

If children ask, "If it's OK for him, why is it not OK for me?"  we can simply say that he is needs lessons in civility, compassion, and gratitude. Then repeat the words of Michelle Obama over and over again: “When they go low, we go high.”

Copyright 2017 Rita Watson


E. Froh, J. J., Fan, J., Emmons, R. A., Bono, G., Huebner, E. S., & Watkins, P. (2011). Measuring gratitude in youth: Assessing the psychometric properties of adult gratitude scales in children and adolescents. Psychological Assessment, 23, 311-324. (