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The Challenge of Raising a Grateful Child

Gratitude makes sense of our past, peace for today, and a vision for tomorrow.

If you Google the word gratitude, it is defined as: “Being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” I believe a basic satisfaction derived from parenthood is that you raise children who are thankful, grateful, and appreciative of the things you do for them. Parents sacrifice so much for their children. Parents want a bit of gratitude in return!

As a professor, I took a number of student groups to Thailand. During one trip in northern Thailand, we crossed the Mekong River by boat to an island in Laos. When we got there, one of my Hmong students began to cry. I asked, "What's wrong?" She replied, "I only now understand all that my parents did for me! I was only 2 years old the last time I crossed this river. I was strapped to my father's back. As we crossed at night bullets were flying overhead. My father and mother were in the water floating neck-deep holding onto a bamboo raft. They made it to safety before being killed by the Communist forces shooting at them. Now I am an American citizen. I am the first in my family to graduate from college! I am so grateful for everything they did for me." This student's story illustrates that Melody Beattie was correct when she wrote: “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

Source: Bredehoft

Raising The Grateful Child

Raising a grateful child has a number of benefits. Research shows that grateful people act in ways that are beneficial to themselves, other individuals, and society at large.

By experiencing gratitude, a person is motivated to carry out prosocial behavior, energized to sustain moral behaviors, and is inhibited from committing destructive interpersonal behaviors.”

Research On Gratitude

  • Grateful people behave in prosocial ways (p. 252).
  • Gratitude positively affects well-being and spirituality (p. 263).
  • Gratitude stimulates moral behavior and builds social bonds (p. 214).
  • Children's understanding of gratitude is a process that takes several years (p. 215).
  • In one experiment, few (21%) children younger than age 6 express thanks when getting a gift, while most (80%) 10 or older expressed gratitude (p. 215).
  • The expression of gratitude solidifies between the ages of 7 and 10 (p. 215).
  • Grateful thinking of positive life experiences allows people to get the greatest satisfaction and enjoyment from their current circumstances (p. 75).
  • The ability to appreciate one's life circumstances becomes a coping mechanism allowing for a positive reinterpretation of problematic life experiences (p. 75).
  • Ungrateful people regularly respond to others' kindness with resentment, hostility, or indifference (p. 260).
  • The practice of gratitude inhibits negative feelings like envy, bitterness, anger, and greed (p. 75).
  • The grateful child becomes a happy child (p. 8).
  • The grateful child is not an overindulged child (p. 8).

The Grateful Child Is Not An Overindulged Child

In our eighth study on overindulgence, we found that childhood overindulgence leads to ungratefulness, the inability to delay gratification, an increase in materialistic values, and overall unhappiness in adulthood. Conversely, if individuals are not overindulged as children, they are more likely to feel grateful, delay gratification, have fewer materialistic urges, and be happy.

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity, It can turn a meal into a feast a house into a home, a stranger into a friend." Melody Beattie

Related Articles

The Links Between the Ungrateful Child and Overindulgence

Strategies To Raise a Grateful Child - Part 1

Strategies To Raise a Grateful Child - Part 2

Do all things with Love, Grace, and Gratitude.

© 2019 David J. Bredehoft


McCullough, M.E., Kilpatrick, S. D., Emmons, R. A., & Larson, D. B. (2001). Is gratitude a moral affect? Psychological Bulletin, 127(2), 249-266. DOI: 10.1037//0033-2909.127.2.249

Froth, J. J., Sefick, W. J., & Emmons, R. A. (2008). Counting blessings in early adolescents: An experimental study of gratitude and subjective well-being. Journal of School Psychology, 46(2), 213-233.

Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). How to increase and sustain positive emotion: The effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(2), 73-82.